Despite equal pay legislation dating back 50 years, American women still earn 22% less than their male counterparts. In the UK, with its Equal Pay Act of 1970, and France, which legislated in 1972, the gap is 21% and 17% respectively, and in Australia it remains around 17%. Interestingly, the gender pay gap is relatively small for the young but increases as men and women grow older. Similarly, it is large when comparing married men and women, but smaller for singles. Just what can explain these wage patterns? And what can governments do to speed up wage convergence to close the gender pay gap? Clearly, the gender pay gap continues to be an important policy issue.
Higher labor costs (higher wage rates and employee benefits) make workers better off, but they can reduce companies’ profits, the number of jobs, and the hours each person works. Overtime pay, hiring subsidies, the minimum wage, and payroll taxes are just a few of the policies that affect labor costs. Policies that increase labor costs can substantially affect both employment and hours, in individual companies as well as the overall economy.
Raising the minimum wage in developing countries could increase or decrease poverty, depending on labor market characteristics. Minimum wages target formal sector workers—a minority in most developing countries—many of whom do not live in poor households. Whether raising minimum wages reduces poverty depends not only on whether formal sector workers lose jobs as a result, but also on whether low-wage workers live in poor households, how widely minimum wages are enforced, how minimum wages affect informal workers, and whether social safety nets are in place.
by Marek Góra
For decades, pension systems were based on the rising revenue generated by an expanding population (demographic dividend). As changes in fertility and longevity created new population structures, however, the dividend disappeared, but pension systems failed to adapt. They are kept solvent by increasing redistributions from the shrinking working-age population to retirees. A simple and transparent structure and individualization of pension system participation are the key preconditions for an intergenerationally just old-age security system.
Motivations for introducing a statutory minimum wage in developing countries include reducing poverty, advancing social justice, and accelerating growth. Attaining these goals depends on the national context and policy choices. Institutional capacity tends to be limited, so institutional arrangements must be adapted. Nevertheless, a statutory minimum wage could help developing countries advance their development objectives, even where enforcement capacity is weak and informality is pervasive.
Governments regulate employment to protect workers and to improve labor market efficiency. However, employment regulations can be controversial, often complicated by opposing ideological views. Thus, it is important for policymakers in developing countries to base decisions on empirical evidence of the impacts of these regulations. The majority of the evidence suggests that most countries have set their regulations in the appropriate range. But it can be costly when countries either overregulate or underregulate their labor market.
The potential benefits of higher minimum wages come from the higher wages for affected workers, some of whom are in poor or low-income families. The potential downside is that a higher minimum wage may discourage employers from using the low-wage, low-skill workers that minimum wages are intended to help. If minimum wages reduce employment of low-skill workers, then minimum wages are not a “free lunch” with which to help poor and low-income families, but instead pose a tradeoff of benefits for some versus costs for others. Research findings are not unanimous, but evidence from many countries suggests that minimum wages reduce the jobs available to low-skill workers.
The micro- and macroeconomic effects of the declining power of trade unions have been hotly debated by economists and policymakers. Nevertheless, the empirical evidence shows that the impact of the decline on economic aggregates and firm performance is not an overwhelming cause for concern. However, the association of declining union power with rising earnings inequality and a loss of direct communication between workers and firms is potentially more worrisome. This in turn raises the questions of how supportive contemporary unionism is of wage solidarity, and whether the depiction of the nonunion workplace as an authoritarian “bleak house” is more caricature than reality.
by Alex Bryson
Despite declining bargaining power, unions continue to generate a wage premium. Some feel collective bargaining has had its day. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have recently called for the removal of bargaining rights from workers in the name of wage and employment flexibility, yet unions often work in tandem with employers for mutual gain based on productivity growth. If this is where the premium originates, then firms and workers benefit. Without unions bargaining successfully to raise worker wages, income inequality would almost certainly be higher than it is.
Regulation of standard workweek hours and overtime hours and pay can protect workers who might otherwise be required to work more than they would like to at the going rate. By discouraging the use of overtime, such regulation can increase the standard hourly wage of some workers and encourage work sharing that increases employment, with particular advantages for female workers. However, regulation of overtime raises employment costs, setting in motion economic forces that can limit, neutralize, or even reduce employment. And increasing the coverage of overtime pay regulations has little effect on the share of workers who work overtime or on weekly overtime hours per worker.
According to economic theory, a minimum wage reduces the number of low-wage jobs and increases the number of available workers, allowing greater hiring selectivity. More competition for a smaller number of low-wage jobs will disadvantage immigrants if employers perceive them as less skilled than native-born workers—and vice versa. Studies indicate that a higher minimum wage does not hurt immigrants, but there is no consensus on whether immigrants benefit at the expense of natives. Studies also reach disparate conclusions on whether higher minimum wages attract or repel immigrants.
by Tito Boeri
Debate over labor market flexibility focuses mainly on firing costs, while largely ignoring wage determination and the need for collective bargaining reform. Most countries affected by the euro debt crisis have two-tier bargaining structures in which plant-level bargaining supplements national or industrywide (multi-employer) agreements, taking the pay agreement established at the multi-employer level as a floor. Two-tier structures were intended to link pay more closely to productivity and to allow wages to adjust downward during economic downturns, while preventing excessive earning dispersion. However, these structures seem to fail precisely on these grounds.
Deregulation and managerial compensation are two important topics on the political and academic agenda. The former has been a significant policy recommendation in light of the negative effects associated with overly restrictive regulation on markets and the economy. The latter relates to the sharp increase in top executives’ pay and the nature of the link between pay and performance. To the extent that product-market competition can affect the incentive schemes offered by firms to their executives, the analysis of the effects of competition on the structure of compensation may be informative for policy purposes.
In many countries, the minimum wages and working conditions set in collective bargaining contracts negotiated by a limited set of employers and unions are subsequently extended to all the employees in an industry. Those extensions ensure common working conditions within the industry, limit wage inequality, and reduce gender wage gaps. However, several studies suggest that those benefits come at the cost of reduced employment levels, especially during recessions. The income losses of workers who are displaced because of a collective contract extension can offset the wage gains among workers who keep their jobs.
by Olaf Hübler
The German model of co-determination (Mitbestimmung) with works councils, in which workers are involved in the management of a company, was a role model for other countries for many years. However, since the 1990s the appeal of works councils has been declining, to the extent that now even employees are sometimes voting against representation. This was recently demonstrated by workers at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who voted against union representation. An important question for firms and for policymakers is whether the adoption of a works council has a positive influence on a firm’s productivity and what the consequences are for a firm’s profits.
There are large international differences in the gender pay gap. In some developed countries in 2010–2012, women were close to earnings parity with men, while in others large gaps remained. Since women and men have different average levels of education and experience and commonly work in different industries and occupations, multiple factors can influence the gender pay gap. Among them are skill supply and demand, unions, and minimum wages, which influence the economywide wage returns to education, experience, and occupational wage differentials. Systems of wage compression narrow the gender pay gap but may also lower demand for female workers.
An increase in the minimum wage in immigrant destination countries raises the earnings that low-skilled migrants could expect to attain if they were to migrate. While some studies for the US indicate that a higher minimum wage induces immigration, contrasting evidence shows that immigrants are less likely to move into areas with higher or more frequent increases in the minimum wage. These different findings seem to reflect different relocation decisions by immigrants who have lived in the US for several years, who are more likely to move in response to higher minimum wages, and by new immigrants, who are less likely to move.
Many firms offer employees a remuneration package that links pay to performance as a means of motivation. It also improves efficiency and reduces turnover and absenteeism. The effects on productivity depend on the type of scheme employed (individual or group performance) and its design (commissions, piece-rate or sharing schemes). Individual incentives demonstrate the largest effect, while group or team incentives are smaller in magnitude. The case for government intervention through tax breaks and other financial incentives is highly debated due to differences across firms and the potential for economic inefficiencies.
Minimum wage increases are not an effective mechanism for reducing poverty. And there is little causal evidence that they do so. Most workers who gain from minimum wage increases do not live in poor (or near-poor) families, while some who do live in poor families lose their job as a result of such increases. The earned income tax credit is an effective way to reduce poverty. It raises only the after-tax wage rates of workers in low- and moderate-income families, its tax credit increases with the number of dependent children, and evidence shows that it increases labor force participation and employment in these families.
Direct wage comparisons show that public-sector employees earn around 15% more than private-sector employees. But should these differences be interpreted as a “public-sector premium”? Two points need to be considered. First, the public and private sectors differ in the jobs they offer and the type of workers they employ, which explains a large share of the wage gap. Second, public- and private-sector careers also differ in other important dimensions, such as job stability and income progression, which are relevant to individual career choices. So any comparison of the two sectors should take these points into account.
Because theoretical arguments differ on the economic impact of collective bargaining agreements in developing countries, empirical studies are needed to provide greater clarity. Recent empirical studies for some Latin American countries have examined whether industry- or firm-level collective bargaining is more advantageous for productivity growth. Although differences in labor market institutions and in coverage of collective bargaining agreements limit the generalizability of the findings, studies suggest that work rules may raise productivity when negotiated at the firm level but may sometimes lower productivity when negotiated at the industry level.
The earned income tax credit provides important benefits to low-income families with children in the US. At an annual cost of about $60 billion, it increases the incomes of such families while encouraging parents to work more by subsidizing their incomes. But low-income adults without children and non-custodial parents receive only very low payments under the program, providing them with little income benefits or work incentives. Many of these adults are low-income young men whose wages and employment rates have been declining for years and who might benefit substantially from expanded eligibility for the earned income tax credit.
Although coverage of collective bargaining agreements has been declining for decades in most countries, it is still extensive, especially in non-Anglo-Saxon countries. Strong unions may influence firms’ incentives to invest in capital, particularly in sectors where capital investments are sunk (irreversible), as in research-intensive sectors. Whether unions affect firms’ investment in capital depends on the structure and coordination of bargaining, the preference of unions between wages and employment, the quality of labor-management relations, and the existence of social pacts, among other factors.
The minimum wage has never been as high on the political agenda as it is today, with politicians in Germany, the UK, the US, and other OECD countries calling for substantial increases in the rate. One reason for the rising interest is the growing consensus among economists and policymakers that minimum wages, set at the right level, may help low-paid workers without harming employment prospects. But how should countries set their minimum wage rate? The processes that countries use to set their minimum wage rate and structure differ greatly, as do the methods for adjusting it. The different approaches have merits and shortcomings.
Proponents of minimum wage increases have argued that such hikes can serve as an engine of economic growth and assist low-skilled individuals during downturns in the business cycle. However, a review of the literature provides little empirical support for these claims. Minimum wage increases redistribute gross domestic product away from lower-skilled industries and toward higher-skilled industries and are largely ineffective in assisting the poor during both peaks and troughs in the business cycle. Minimum wage-induced reductions in employment are found to be larger during economic recessions.
Aside from employment protection laws, which have been converging, other labor market institutions in new and old EU member states, such as wage bargaining coordination and labor union density, still differ considerably. These labor market institutions also differ among the new EU member states, with the Baltic countries being much more liberal than the others. Research that pools data on old and new EU member states shows that wage coordination mechanisms can improve a country’s macroeconomic performance. Stronger wage coordination and higher union density reduce the response of inflation to the business cycle.
Economists typically predict that people are inherently selfish; however, experimental evidence suggests that this is often not the case. In particular, delegating a choice (such as a wage) to the performing party may imbue this party with a sense of responsibility, leading to improved outcomes for both the delegating entity and the performing party. This strategy can be risky, as some people will still choose to act in a selfish manner, causing adverse consequences for productivity and earnings. An important issue to consider is therefore how to encourage a sense of responsibility in the performing party.
by Tony Fang
Profit sharing can lead to higher productivity and thus to higher firm profitability and employee wages. It may also enhance employment stability by enabling firms to adjust wages during downturns rather than lay off workers. While adoption of profit sharing increases earnings fluctuations, it also increases earnings growth in the longer term. As with any group incentive plan, profit sharing may result in some workers benefiting from the effort of others without themselves exerting greater effort (“free-rider problem”). However, there is evidence that in team-based production workplaces, profit sharing may reduce shirking and thus contribute to productivity growth.
Policymakers in many OECD countries are increasingly concerned about high and rising inequality. Much of the evidence (as far back as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations) points to the importance of skills in tackling wage inequality. Yet a recent strand of the research argues that (cognitive) skills explain little of the cross-country differences in wage inequality. Does this challenge the received wisdom on the relationship between skills and wage inequality? No, because this recent research fails to account for the fact that the price of skill (and thus wage inequality) is determined to a large extent by the match of skill supply and demand.
Policymakers often propose a minimum wage as a means of raising incomes and lifting workers out of poverty. However, improvements in some young workers’ incomes as a result of a minimum wage come at a cost to others. Minimum wages reduce employment opportunities for youths and create unemployment. Workers miss out on on-the-job training opportunities that would have been paid for by reduced wages upfront but would have resulted in higher wages later. Youths who cannot find jobs must be supported by their families or by the social welfare system. Delayed entry into the labor market reduces the lifetime income stream of young unskilled workers.
High risk of poverty and low employment rates are widespread among low-skilled groups, especially in the case of some household compositions (e.g. single mothers). “Making-work-pay” policies have been advocated for and implemented to address these issues. They alleviate the above-mentioned problems without providing a disincentive to work. However, do they deliver on their promises? If they do reduce poverty and enhance employment, can we further determine their effects on indicators of well-being, such as mental health and life satisfaction, or on the acquisition of human capital?
A pieceworker receives a fixed rate for each unit (“piece”) produced or action performed. In part, the rate reflects a cost of monitoring output. A timeworker receives a fixed wage rate per hour that, in the short term, does not vary with output performance. From the 18th century up to the last third of the 20th century these were the two dominant payment methods in the manufacturing and production industries. Yet, today the incidence of piecework in advanced economies is very small, having lost considerable ground to time rates and to other forms of incentive pay. What caused this transformation, and has the movement away from piecework gone too far?
Higher wages increase labor costs but also improve the productivity of the labor force in several ways. If firms take this into account and set their wages accordingly, the resulting wages could fail to adjust demand and supply but may induce phenomena like over-education, discrimination, regional wage differentials, and a tendency for larger firms to pay higher wages. All these phenomena are quantitatively important and well-established empirically. Efficiency wage theory provides an integrated theoretical explanation rather than a sundry list of reasons, and offers an efficiency argument for progressive income taxation.
Low-wage employment has become an important feature of the labor market and a controversial topic for debate in many countries. How to interpret the prominence of low-paid jobs and whether they are beneficial to workers or society is currently an open question. The answer depends on whether low-paid jobs are largely transitory and serve as stepping stones to higher-paid employment, whether they become persistent, or whether they result in repeated unemployment. The empirical evidence is mixed, pointing to both stepping-stone effects and “scarring” effects (i.e. long-lasting detrimental effects) of low-paid work.
The Mincer equation—arguably the most widely used in empirical work—can be used to explain a host of economic, and even non-economic, phenomena. One such application involves explaining (and estimating) employment earnings as a function of schooling and labor market experience. The Mincer equation provides estimates of the average monetary returns of one additional year of education. This information is important for policymakers who must decide on education spending, prioritization of schooling levels, and education financing programs such as student loans.
In transition economies, a significant number of companies reduce their tax and social contributions by paying their staff an official salary, described in a registered formal employment agreement, and an extra, undeclared “envelope wage,” via a verbal unwritten agreement. The consequences include a loss of government income and a lack of fair play for lawful companies. For employees, accepting under-reported wages reduces their access to credit and their social protections. Addressing this issue will help increase the quality of working conditions, strengthen trade unions, and reduce unfair competition.
by Mario Macis
Gender wage gaps and women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions exist at remarkably similar magnitudes across countries at all levels of income per capita. Women’s educational attainment and labor market participation have improved, but this has been insufficient to close the gaps. A combination of economic forces, cultural and social norms, discrimination, and unequal legal rights appear to be contributing to gender inequality. A range of policy options (such as quotas) have been implemented in some countries; some have been successful, whereas for others the effects are still unclear.
Public sector jobs are created because governments opt to provide goods and services produced directly by public employees. Governments, however, may also choose to regulate the size of the public sector in order to stabilize targeted national employment levels. However, economic research suggests that these effects are uncertain and critically depend on how public wages are determined. Rigid public sector wages lead to perverse effects on private employment, while flexible public wages lead to a stabilizing effect. Public employment also has important productivity and redistributive effects.