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.

  • Competitiveness, labor market institutions, and monetary policy

    Monetary policy should respond to the exchange rate in countries where labor market institutions hinder wage adjustment

    Ester Faia, August 2017
    In the presence of rigid prices, movements in the exchange rate help to absorb external shocks and to reduce changes in net exports. However, they also affect firms’ competitiveness, marginal costs, and labor demand. In countries where labor market institutions hinder wage adjustment (for example due to high union density or more rigid collective bargaining agreements), firms are less competitive: labor demand is then more sensitive to external shocks, increasing the risk of unemployment.
  • How does international trade affect household welfare?

    Households can benefit from international trade as it lowers the prices of consumer goods

    Beyza Ural Marchand, August 2017
    Imported products tend to have lower prices than locally produced ones for a variety of reasons, including lower labor costs and better technology in the exporting country. The reduced prices may lead to wage losses for individuals who work in the production of a local version of the imported item. On the other hand, lower prices may be beneficial to households if the cheaper product is in their consumption basket. These welfare gains through consumption, on average, are found to be larger in magnitude than the wage effect for some developing countries.
  • The labor market in Germany, 2000–2016

    The transformation of a notoriously rigid labor market into a role model of its own style is essentially complete

    The EU’s largest economy, Germany, has managed to find an effective and unique combination of flexibility and rigidity in its labor market. Institutions that typically characterize rigid labor markets are effectively balanced by flexibility instruments. Important developments since 2000 include steadily decreasing unemployment rates (since 2005), increasing participation rates, and (since 2011) moderately increasing labor compensation. The German labor market has also been remarkably robust to the impacts of the Great Recession, thus providing a useful case study for other developed countries.
  • How does monetary policy affect labor demand and labor productivity?

    Monetary policy easing initially supports labor demand, but persistent easing may slow down necessary restructuring and productivity growth

    Andrew Benito, July 2017
    By supporting aggregate demand, including by easing financial constraints that affect businesses and house­holds, accommodative monetary policy increased employment during the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. But, monetary policies that ease financial pressures also reduce necessary restructuring that normally contributes to productivity growth. One reason why productivity growth has been weaker in the aftermath of the crisis is that aggressive monetary policy actions have weakened underlying supply-side performance and labor productivity.
  • Relative pay, effort, and labor supply

    Comparisons to others’ pay and to one’s own past earnings can affect willingness to work and effort on the job

    Anat Bracha, June 2017
    Recent studies show that even irrelevant relative pay information—earnings compared to the past or to others—significantly affects workers’ willingness to work (labor supply) and effort. This effect stems mainly from those whose pay compares unfavorably; accordingly, earning less compared to others or less than in the past significantly reduces one’s willingness to work and effort exerted on the job. Comparing favorably, however, has mixed effects—with usually no effect on effort, but positive or no effects on labor supply. Understanding when relative pay increases labor supply and effort can thus help firms devise optimal payment structures.
  • Racial wage differentials in developed countries

    The variation of racial wage gaps across and within groups requires differing policy solutions

    Simonetta Longhi, June 2017
    In many developed countries, racial and ethnic minorities are paid, on average, less than the native white majority. While racial wage differentials are partly the result of immigration, they also persist for racial minorities of second and further generations. Eliminating racial wage differentials and promoting equal opportunities among citizens with different racial backgrounds is an important social policy goal. Inequalities resulting from differences in opportunities lead to a waste of talent for those who cannot reach their potential and to a waste of resources if some people cannot contribute fully to society.
  • How do candidates’ looks affect their election chances?

    Looks matter and can tip the scales between the right and left

    Panu Poutvaara, June 2017
    Good-looking political candidates win more votes around the world. This holds for both male and female candidates. Candidate appearance may be especially important for uninformed voters, as it is easy to observe. Voters may favor good-looking candidates because they expect them to be more competent or persuasive, but it can also be that voters simply enjoy laying their eyes on beautiful politicians. As politicians on the right have been deemed more attractive in Europe, the US, and Australia, the importance of beauty in politics favors conservative parties. A related finding is that voters use beauty as a cue for conservatism.
  • Can diversity encourage entrepreneurship in transition economies?

    Harnessing the benefits of diversity is essential for encouraging entrepreneurship in the transition region

    Elena Nikolova, May 2017
    Entrepreneurship is an important lever for spurring transition in the economies of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. Utilizing diversity, in terms of religion or gender, can positively affect entrepreneurial development. Programs that encourage entrepreneurial initiatives (such as business start-ups) in culturally diverse localities should rank high on the policy agenda. Prompting women to start a business, along with female-friendly measures (including targeted legislation), can positively affect entrepreneurial behaviour and the performance of existing enterprises.
  • Gross domestic product: Are other measures needed?

    GDP summarizes only one aspect of a country’s condition; other measures in addition to GDP would be valuable

    Gross domestic product (GDP) is the key indicator of the health of an economy and can be easily compared across countries. But it has limitations. GDP tells what is going on today, but does not inform about sustainability of growth. It does not measure happiness, so residents can be dissatisfied even when GDP is rising. GDP does not consider environmental factors or reflect what individuals do outside paid employment. It might increase in times of military conflicts and after natural disasters or terrorist acts, as the loss of property is not counted. Hence, complementary measures may help to show a more comprehensive picture of an economy.
  • Do trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe make a difference?

    Low coverage and greater fragmentation can limit the benefits of trade unions

    Iga Magda, May 2017
    Countries with strong industrial relations institutions and well-established social dialogue often perform well in terms of economic growth and social cohesion. The weak and fragmented bargaining and low levels of union coverage in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) raise concerns about these countries’ potential to maintain competitiveness, tackle demographic and macroeconomic challenges, and catch up with Western European economic and social standards. There is evidence that unions in CEE continue to protect their members and generate wage premiums, despite their institutional weaknesses.
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