Wage setting

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Equal pay legislation and the gender wage gap

Despite major efforts at equal pay legislation, gender pay inequality still exists in the developed economies. How can this be put right?

10.15185/izawol.16 16 Polachek, S

by Solomon W. Polachek

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.

Do labor costs affect companies’ demand for labor?

The effect of overtime, payroll taxes, and labor policies and costs on companies’ product output and countries’ GDP

10.15185/izawol.3 3 Hamermesh, D

by Daniel S. Hamermesh

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.

Does increasing the minimum wage reduce poverty in developing countries?

Whether raising minimum wages reduces—or increases—poverty depends on the characteristics of the labor market

10.15185/izawol.30 30 Gindling, T

by T. H. Gindling

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.

Redesigning pension systems

The institutional structure of pension systems should follow population developments

10.15185/izawol.51 51 Góra, M

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.

Introducing a statutory minimum wage in middle and low income countries

Successful implementation of a statutory minimum wage depends on context, capacity, and institutional design

10.15185/izawol.52 52 Margolis, D

by David N. Margolis

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.

Designing labor market regulations in developing countries

Labor market regulation should aim to improve the functioning of the labor market while protecting workers

10.15185/izawol.57 57 Betcherman, G

by Gordon Betcherman

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.

Employment effects of minimum wages

When minimum wages are introduced or raised, are there fewer jobs? Global evidence says yes

10.15185/izawol.6 6 Neumark, D

by David Neumark

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 consequences of trade union power erosion

Declining union power would not be an overwhelming cause for concern if not for rising wage inequality and the loss of worker voice

10.15185/izawol.68 68 Addison, J

by John T. Addison

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.

Union wage effects

What are the economic implications of union wage bargaining for workers, firms, and society?

10.15185/izawol.35 35 Bryson, A

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.

The effect of overtime regulations on employment

There is no evidence that being strict with overtime hours and pay boosts employment—it could even lower it

10.15185/izawol.89 89 Oaxaca, R

by Ronald L. Oaxaca

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.

Who benefits from the minimum wage—natives or migrants?

There is no evidence that increases in the minimum wage have hurt immigrants

10.15185/izawol.98 98 Zavodny, M

by Madeline Zavodny

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.

Perverse effects of two-tier wage bargaining structures

Two-tier wage bargaining fails to link wages more closely to productivity and increases allocative inefficiencies

10.15185/izawol.101 101 Boeri, T

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.

Market competition and executive pay

Increased competition affects the pay incentives firms provide to their managers and may also affect overall pay structures

10.15185/izawol.115 115 Ferreira, P

by Priscila Ferreira

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.

Employment and wage effects of extending collective bargaining agreements

Extending provisions of collective contracts to all workers in an industry or region may lead to employment losses

10.15185/izawol.136 136 Villanueva, E

by Ernesto Villanueva

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.

Do works councils raise or lower firm productivity?

Works councils can have a positive impact on firm productivity, but only when specific conditions are in place

10.15185/izawol.137 137 Hübler, O

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.

Wage compression and the gender pay gap

Wage-setting institutions narrow the gender pay gap but may reduce employment for some women

10.15185/izawol.150 150 Kahn, L

by Lawrence M. Kahn

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.

Do minimum wages induce immigration?

The minimum wage affects international migration flows and the internal relocation of immigrants

10.15185/izawol.151 151 Giulietti, C

by Corrado Giulietti

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.

Performance-related pay and labor productivity

Do pay incentives and financial participation schemes have an effect on a firm’s performance?

10.15185/izawol.152 152 Lucifora, C

by Claudio Lucifora

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.

The minimum wage versus the earned income tax credit for reducing poverty

Enhancing the earned income tax credit would do more to reduce poverty, at less cost, than increasing the minimum wage

10.15185/izawol.153 153 Burkhauser, R

by Richard V. Burkhauser

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.

Does it pay to be a public-sector employee?

Contrary to common belief, the long-term public-private pay gap is negligible in many countries

10.15185/izawol.156 156 Postel-Vinay, F

by Fabien Postel-Vinay

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.

Collective bargaining in developing countries

Negotiating work rules at the firm level instead of the industry level could lead to productivity gains

10.15185/izawol.183 183 Lamarche, C

by Carlos Lamarche

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.

Should the earned income tax credit rise for childless adults?

The earned income tax credit raises income and work incentives among low-income parents but little goes to adults without children

10.15185/izawol.184 184 Holzer, H

by Harry J. Holzer

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.

Unions and investment in intangible capital

When workers and firms cannot commit to long-term contracts and capital investments are sunk, union power can reduce investment

10.15185/izawol.201 201 Sulis, G

by Giovanni Sulis

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.

How are minimum wages set?

Countries set minimum wages in different ways, and some countries set different wages for different groups of workers

10.15185/izawol.211 211 Dickens, R

by Richard Dickens

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.

Do minimum wages stimulate productivity and growth?

Minimum wage increases fail to stimulate growth and can have a negative impact on vulnerable workers during recessions

10.15185/izawol.221 221 Sabia, J

by Joseph J. Sabia

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.

Wage coordination in new and old EU member states

Stronger wage coordination and higher union density are associated with lower unemployment and higher inflation

10.15185/izawol.222 222 Rovelli, R

by Riccardo Rovelli

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.

Should firms allow workers to choose their own wage?

Delegating the choice of wage setting to workers can lead to better outcomes for all involved parties

10.15185/izawol.223 223 Charness, G

by Gary B. Charness

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.

Profit sharing: Consequences for workers

Profit sharing, a formal “bonus” program based on firm profitability, can provide strong employee motivation if properly designed

10.15185/izawol.225 225 Fang, T

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.

Do skills matter for wage inequality?

Policies to tackle wage inequality should focus on skills alongside reform of labor market institutions

10.15185/izawol.232 232 Broecke, S

by Stijn Broecke

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.

The effects of minimum wages on youth employment and income

Minimum wages reduce entry-level jobs, training, and lifetime income

10.15185/izawol.243 243 Kalenkoski, C

by Charlene Marie Kalenkoski

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.

Do in-work benefits work for low-skilled workers?

To boost the employment rate of the low-skilled trapped in inactivity is it sufficient to supplement their earnings?

10.15185/izawol.246 246 Van der Linden, B

by Bruno Van der Linden

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?

The rise and fall of piecework

Incidence of piecework has significantly reduced in advanced industrialized economies—has its decline gone too far?

10.15185/izawol.254 254 Hart, R

by Robert A. Hart

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?

Efficiency wages: Variants and implications

Wages affect productivity and non-wage costs; this carries important labor market and policy implications

10.15185/izawol.275 274 Schlicht, E

by Ekkehart Schlicht

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

Are low-paid jobs stepping stones to higher paid jobs, do they become persistent, or do they lead to recurring unemployment?

10.15185/izawol.276 276 Schnabel, C

by Claus Schnabel

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.

Estimating the return to schooling using the Mincer equation

The Mincer equation gives comparable estimates of the average monetary returns of one additional year of education

10.15185/izawol.278 278 Patrinos, H

by Harry Anthony Patrinos

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.

Cash wage payments in transition economies: Consequences of envelope wages

Reducing under-reporting of salaries requires institutional changes

10.15185/izawol.280 280 Horodnic, I

by Ioana Alexandra Horodnic

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.

Gender differences in wages and leadership

Gender gaps in wages and leadership positions are large—Why, and what can be done about it?

10.15185/izawol.323 323 Macis, M

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.

The effects of public sector employment on the economy

The size and wage level of the public sector affect overall employment volatility and the economy

10.15185/izawol.332 332 Caponi, V

by Vincenzo Caponi

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.