Labor markets and institutions

Institutions have important consequences for the performance of households, companies, governments, and entire markets—they determine the welfare of nations. Contributions to this subject area explore the underlying mechanisms and the politico-economic determinants of such structures. Many provide background analyses that offer evidence on how new institutions and policies would affect labor markets.

  • The Danish labor market, 2000–2018 Updated

    Employment has increased since the recession due to a cyclical upturn and structural reforms

    Torben M. Andersen, December 2019
    Denmark is often highlighted as a “flexicurity” country characterized by lax employment protection legislation, generous unemployment insurance, and active labor market policies. Despite a sharp and prolonged decline in employment in the wake of the Great Recession, high job turnover and wage adjustments worked to prevent increased long-term and structural unemployment. Most unemployment spells were short, muting the effects on long-term and youth unemployment. Recent reforms boosted labor supply and employment, targeting the young, elderly, and immigrants. Employment recovered to its structural level around 2015 and has since increased due to a favorable business cycle situation and structural reforms (particularly increases in retirement age).
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  • Effect of international activity on firm performance Updated

    Trade liberalization benefits better performing firms and contributes to economic growth

    Joachim Wagner, November 2019
    There is evidence that better performing firms tend to enter international markets. Internationally active firms are larger, more productive, and pay higher wages than other firms in the same industry. Positive performance effects of engaging in international activity are found especially in firms from less advanced economies that interact with partners from more advanced economies. Lowering barriers to the international division of labor should therefore be part of any pro-growth policy.
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  • The effect of early retirement schemes on youth employment Updated

    Keeping older workers in the workforce longer not only doesn’t harm the employment of younger workers, but might actually help both

    René BöheimThomas Nice, October 2019
    The fiscal sustainability of state pensions is a central concern of policymakers in nearly every advanced economy. Policymakers have attempted to ensure the sustainability of these programs in recent decades by raising retirement ages. However, there are concerns that keeping older workers in the workforce for longer might have negative consequences for younger workers. Since youth unemployment is a pressing problem throughout advanced and developing countries, it is important to consider the impact of these policies on the employment prospects of the young.
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  • Retirement plan type and worker mobility

    Selection and incentives in retirement plans affect job transitions

    The relationship between retirement plan type and job mobility is more complex than typically considered. While differences in plan features and benefit structure may directly affect employees’ mobility decisions (“incentive effect”), the type of plan offered may also affect the types of employees a given employer attracts (“selection effect”), thereby affecting mobility through a second, indirect channel. At the same time, some employees may not be able to accurately assess differences between plan types due to limited financial literacy. These factors have implications for policymakers and employers considering retirement plan offerings.
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  • Equal pay legislation and the gender wage gap Updated

    Despite major efforts at equal pay legislation, gender pay inequality still exists—how can this be put right?

    Solomon W. Polachek, October 2019
    Despite equal pay legislation dating back 50 years, American women still earn 18% less than their male counterparts. In the UK, with its Equal Pay Act of 1970, and France, which legislated in 1972, the gap is 17% and 10% respectively, and in Australia it remains around 14%. 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.
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  • Do firms benefit from apprenticeship investments? Updated

    Why spending on occupational skills can yield economic returns to employers

    Robert Lerman, October 2019
    Economists have long believed that firms will not pay to develop occupational skills that workers could use in other, often competing, firms. Researchers now recognize that firms that invest in apprenticeship training generally reap good returns. Evidence indicates that financial returns to firms vary. Some recoup their investment within the apprenticeship period, while others see their investment pay off only after accounting for reduced turnover, recruitment, and initial training costs. Generally, the first year of apprenticeships involves significant costs, but subsequently, the apprentice's contributions exceed his/her wages and supervisory costs. Most participating firms view apprenticeships as offering certainty that all workers have the same high level of expertise and ensuring an adequate supply of well-trained workers to cover sudden increases in demand and to fill leadership positions.
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  • Designing labor market regulations in developing countries Updated

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

    Gordon Betcherman, September 2019
    Governments regulate employment to protect workers and improve labor market efficiency. But, regulations, such as minimum wages and job security rules, can be controversial. Thus, decisions on setting employment regulations should be based on empirical evidence of their likely impacts. Research suggests that most countries set regulations in the appropriate range. But this is not always the case and it can be costly when countries over- or underregulate their labor markets. In developing countries, effective regulation also depends on enforcement and education policies that will increase compliance.
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  • Public employment in the Middle East and North Africa

    Does a changing public sector workforce in the MENA region provide an opportunity for efficient restructuring?

    Public sector hiring has been an essential component of the social bargains that have maintained political stability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As these bargains eroded, public sector workforces contracted in relative terms owing to a partial freeze on hiring and the promise of lifetime job security for incumbent workers. This had profound effects on the age composition of the workforce. The upcoming retirement of many workers provides an opportunity to restructure public sector hiring to emphasize meritocratic recruitment processes and performance-based compensation systems.
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  • Women in crime Updated

    Over the last 50 years women have been increasing their participation in the labor market and in the crime market

    Nadia Campaniello, July 2019
    In recent decades, women's participation in the labor market has increased considerably in most countries and is converging toward the participation rate of men. Though on a lesser scale, a similar movement toward gender convergence seems to be occurring in the criminal world, though many more men than women still engage in criminal activity. Technological progress and social norms have freed women from the home, increasing their participation in both the labor and the crime market. With crime no longer just men's business, it is important to investigate female criminal behavior to determine whether the policy prescriptions to reduce crime should differ for women.
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  • Measuring income inequality

    Summary measures of inequality differ from one another and give different pictures of the evolution of economic inequality over time

    Ija Trapeznikova, July 2019
    Economists use various metrics for measuring income inequality. Here, the most commonly used measures—the Lorenz curve, the Gini coefficient, decile ratios, the Palma ratio, and the Theil index—are discussed in relation to their benefits and limitations. Equally important is the choice of what to measure: pre-tax and after-tax income, consumption, and wealth are useful indicators; and different sources of income such as wages, capital gains, taxes, and benefits can be examined. Understanding the dimensions of economic inequality is a key first step toward choosing the right policies to address it.
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