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.

  • A flexicurity labor market during recession

    Long-term unemployment did not rise under the flexicurity model during the great recession, despite the large drop in GDP

    Torben M. Andersen, July 2015
    Before the great recession of 2008–2009, the “flexicurity” model (with flexibility for firms to adjust their labor force along with income security for workers through the social safety net) attracted attention for its ability to deliver low unemployment. But how did it fare during the recession, especially in Denmark, which has been highlighted as having a well-functioning flexicurity model? Flexible hiring and firing rules are expected to lead to large adjustments in employment in a recession. Did the high rate of job turnover continue or did long-term unemployment rise? And did the social safety net become overburdened?
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  • Active labor market policies and crime

    Unemployment increases crime among youth, while active labor market policies can mitigate the problem

    Torben Tranaes, September 2015
    Active labor market programs continue to receive high priority in wealthy countries despite the fact that the benefits appear small relative to the costs. This apparent discrepancy suggests that the programs may have a broader purpose than simply increasing employment—for instance, preventing anti-social behavior such as crime. Indeed, recent evidence shows that participation in active labor market programs reduces crime among unemployed young men. The existence of such effects could explain why it is the income-redistributing countries with greater income equality that spend the most on active labor market programs.
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  • Alternative dispute resolution

    How different procedures might succeed in settling disputes

    David L. Dickinson, September 2014
    Alternative dispute resolution procedures such as arbitration and mediation are the most common methods for resolving wage, contract, and grievance disputes, but they lead to varying levels of success and acceptability of the outcome depending on their design. Some innovative procedures, not yet implemented in the real world, are predicted to improve on existing procedures in some ways. But controlled tests of several procedures show that the simple addition of a nonbinding stage prior to binding dispute resolution can produce the best results in terms of cost (monetary and “uncertainty” costs) and acceptability.
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  • Are part-time workers less productive and underpaid?

    The impact of part-time workers on firms’ productivity is unclear, and lower wages depend mainly on occupation and sector

    Andrea Garnero, April 2016
    About one in five workers across OECD countries is employed part-time, and the share has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the economic and financial crisis in 2007. Part-time options play an important economic role by providing more flexible working arrangements for both workers and firms. Part-time employment has also contributed substantially to increasing the employment rate, especially among women. However, part-time work comes at a cost of lower wages for workers, mainly because part-time jobs are concentrated in lower paying occupations and sectors, while the impact on firms’ productivity is still not very clear.
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  • 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.
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  • Can government policies reverse undesirable declines in fertility?

    Government policies can have a modest effect on raising fertility—but broader social changes lowering fertility are stronger

    Elizabeth Brainerd, May 2014
    Since 1989 fertility and family formation have declined sharply in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Fertility rates are converging on—and sometimes falling below—rates in Western Europe, most of which are below replacement levels. Concerned about a shrinking and aging population and strains on pension systems, governments are using incentives to encourage people to have more children. These policies seem only modestly effective in countering the impacts of widespread social changes, including new work opportunities for women and stronger incentives to invest in education.
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  • Can hiring subsidies benefit the unemployed?

    Hiring subsidies can be a very cost-effective way of helping the unemployed, but only when they are carefully targeted

    Alessio J. G. Brown, June 2015
    Long-term unemployment can lead to skill attrition and have detrimental effects on future employment prospects, particularly following periods of economic crises when employment growth is slow and cannot accommodate high levels of unemployment. Addressing this problem requires the use of active labor market policies targeted at the unemployed. In this context, hiring subsidies can provide temporary incentives for firms to hire unemployed workers and, when sensibly targeted, are a very cost-effective and efficient means of reducing unemployment, during both periods of economic stability and recovery.
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  • Can “happiness data” help evaluate economic policies?

    “Happiness data” may help assess the welfare effects of a new labor market policy, like a change in benefit generosity

    Robert MacCulloch, January 2016
    Imagine a government confronted with a controversial policy question, like whether it should cut the level of unemployment benefits. Will social welfare rise as a result? Will some groups be winners and other groups be losers? Will the welfare gap between the employed and unemployed increase? “Happiness data” offer a new way to make these kinds of evaluations. These data allow us to track the well-being of the whole population, and also sub-groups like the employed and unemployed people, and correlate the results with relevant policy changes.
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  • Cash wage payments in transition economies: Consequences of envelope wages

    Reducing under-reporting of salaries requires institutional changes

    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.
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  • Collective bargaining in developing countries

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

    Carlos Lamarche, September 2015
    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.
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