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Swedish Labour Mobility Lab (Umeå): Structural change and mobility frictions on regional labour markets.

Research project Facilitating individuals’ transitions from declining to expanding jobs is a central aspect of a well-working labour market during structural change. However, we still have limited knowledge in which ways people enter jobs that grow on regional labour markets, the main frictions stalling labour mobility, and conditions of work after having entered the growing jobs.

The aim of the Swedish Labour Mobility Lab is to combine contemporary datasets and historical insights to map the labour mobility structures into expanding jobs in Sweden to increase our understanding of the ways in which skills, gender norms and geography affect who enters expanding jobs, in which ways, and under which working conditions. The Lab combines use of Statistics Sweden’s longitudinal register data on individuals and firms, analyses of big-data covering Swedish job ads recently made available by the Swedish Public Employment Service and exploration of historical datasets.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2021-11-01 2026-10-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Centre for Regional Science, Department of Geography

Research area

Human geography

External funding

Forte

Project description

Drawing on Sweden’s world-class quantitative data sources and by enabling long-term research collaboration between its dedicated members, the Lab will produce scientifically cutting-edge and policy-relevant knowledge about the mobility structures on the Swedish labour market. More specifically, the Lab’s research will focus on the frictions that facilitate or hinder labour mobility into expanding jobs in regional labour markets. The Swedish Labour Mobility Lab combines use of Statistics Sweden’s longitudinal register data on individuals and firms, analysis of the big-data sets covering Swedish job adds recently made available by the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) and exploration of historical labour market datasets.

How people enter jobs that grow on regional labour markets, and their conditions of work after having entered these growing jobs, are essential but under-researched aspects of structural change. We define a “job” as a specific occupation in a specific industry, for example an engineer in the automotive industry, or an accountant in the professional business services industry (Goos & Manning 2007). With “growing jobs”, we mean a job category that expands in terms of employment opportunities.

Labour mobility into expanding jobs is not a process absent from frictions that impact how, where and when people can take on new jobs. For example, different qualifications and competences might be demanded in expanding compared to the contracting jobs, or non-inclusive norms might hinder already underrepresented groups from entering expanding jobs. Also, the basic fact that new jobs often grow in other regions compared to where old jobs disappear, creates frictions that impacts how vacancies in new jobs can be filled.

Much responsibility in overcoming such frictions to labour market mobility is left to individuals: they carry the prime agency and make their mobility decisions. But firms, labour market organizations and different levels of government also have important roles to facilitate labour mobility into growing jobs (Lindelle 2018). Such organizations are often also empowered to promote the growth of a labour market and employment structure that we normatively aspire as a society, for example when it comes to creating equal opportunities for men and women to enter and remain in growing jobs.

Recent research has indeed carried matters forward and created new insights into these topics, and it has, aided by new data sources, created new state-of-the art theories, methods and indicators that address the frictions facilitating and hindering labour mobility on and between regional labour markets. Yet, most research so far have relied on fairly conventional statistical indicators about which skills are required for certain jobs in regional economies and while great efforts have been directed towards understanding the labour mobility from declining jobs, very few contributions have approached the question how, when and where people enter expanding jobs (Quintini 2011, Martynovich & Henning 2018). Furthermore, while a relatively encompassing literature has allowed us to map and understand wage differentials between women and men in the economy, Grönlund (2017) argues that much more systematic knowledge is needed to fully understand the interdependence between education, jobs, geography and the persistent gender inequalities. In fact, few quantitative contributions have allowed us to create a better understanding of the labour mobility patterns that create inequalities between women and men on job level, and why they are so persistent.

Issues around labour mobility, and the frictions affecting it on regional labour markets, are especially pertinent in our time. Developments in the contemporary economy, such as continued automation of jobs (Frank et al 2018), labour market polarization (Henning & Eriksson 2021) and a changing geography of jobs (Eriksson & Hane-Weijman 2017), all suggests that we have entered, or are about to enter, a new era of structural change where differences in economic opportunities are even more pronounced than before. Our technological era is sometimes referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but as the name itself implies, it was preceded by three all-encompassing industrial revolutions in the past. Therefore, even if every time has its unique traits, there are ample of lessons to be learned by studying how labour markets respond to the rapid technological advancements created in historical epochs (Katz & Margo 2014). The work of the Lab also embraces a historical perspective, that helps to put our transformative period into long-term perspective.

To address issues about the overall functionality of labour markets during structural change, it becomes key to develop a better understanding of the structures of labour mobility, and in particular how and by whom growing jobs are employed, how that changes over time, and what happens to different groups in the labour force once they have entered a growing job.

The overall aim of the Swedish Labour Mobility Lab is therefore to combine unique contemporary datasets and historical insights to map the labour mobility structures into expanding jobs in Sweden, and increase the understanding of the ways in which skills, gender norms and geography affect who enters expanding jobs, in which ways, and under which working conditions. 

The Swedish Labour Mobility Lab’s research group consists of a mix between young researchers in different stages of their early careers, and more senior scholars. While the prime objective of the Lab is to produce policy-relevant scientific knowledge about labour mobility in Sweden in times of structural change, the Lab also aspires to prepare a new generation of researchers to conduct internationally competitive research on regional labour markets and labour mobility, and to communicate their research to a variety of stakeholders.

 

External funding