Job Precarity and the Life-Course – How Polish Youth Manage Their Unstable Lives

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Anna KIERSZTYN, University of Warsaw, Institute of Sociology, Poland, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
The way that increasing labor market risks impact the young and their transition to adulthood has become an timely and policy-relevant subject of inquiry. In particular, a much-debated issue concerns the potential effects of the growth in atypical employment on the biographies of labor market entrants. In Poland, these issues are of special significance: the rates of temporary employment among youth are among the highest in Europe, and precarity for young workers appears to have become the norm. In addition, recent studies suggest that the transition rates from temporary to stable employment are low, so many workers entering the labor market over the past years face high risks of prolonged job instability. Under such conditions, an important question concerns the ways that young precarious workers perceive their current situation and prospects for the future, how they cope with labor market risks, and how these perceptions and coping strategies affect their biographies.

This paper addresses these questions through an analysis of 34 qualitative inteviews, conducted in 2016 among young (age up to 40) Polish temporary workers who have completed full-time education. The interviews offer a vivid illustration of the economic risks associated with precarious employment, and the processess of individualization of risk (Beck and Beck-Gernheim 2002), whereby the young view (and legitimize) their job and life trajectories as self-constructed and not subject to structural constraints. For a broader view of the life-course outcomes of labor market risks portrayed in the interviews, I supplement the qualitative results by an analysis of quantitative data from the Polish Panel Survey POLPAN 1988-2013. POLPAN is a rich source of biographical information for a representative national sample of Polish adults, enabling the assessment of long-term trends in the timing of key biographical events, such as: leaving the parental home, migration, marriage and childbirth, across successive cohorts.