Summary: It is often said that work is not only a source of income, but also of meaning and purpose.
In this paper, I explore the theoretical and empirical literature that addresses this relationship between work and meaning. I show that the relationship is far less clear than is commonly supposed: there is a great heterogeneity in its nature, both among today's workers and workers over time. I explain why the nature of this relationship matters for policymakers concerned about the impact of technology on work. In the short term, it is important for understanding how AI affects not only the quantity of work, but its quality as well: these new technologies may erode the meaning that people get from their work.
In the medium term, if jobs are lost, this relationship also matters for designing bold policy interventions like the 'UBI' and 'Job Guarantee Schemes': their design, and any choice between them, is heavily dependent on policymakers' - often tacit - assumptions about the nature of this underlying relationship between work and meaning. For instance, policymakers must decide whether to simply focus on replacing lost income alone (as with a UBI) or, if they believe that work is an important and non-substitutable source of meaning, on protecting jobs for that additional role as well (as with a Job Guarantee Scheme).