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.

  • Women in crime

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

    Nadia Campaniello, November 2014
    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 market 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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  • Who owns the robots rules the world

    Workers can benefit from technology that substitutes robots or other machines for their work by owning part of the capital that replaces them

    Richard B. Freeman, May 2015
    Robots, that is any sort of machinery from computers to artificial intelligence programs that provides a good substitute for work currently performed by humans, can increasingly replace workers, even highly skilled professionals, and thus reduce opportunities for good jobs and pay. But, with appropriate policies, the higher productivity due to robots can improve worker well-being by raising incomes and creating greater leisure for workers. Consider the way Google reduces the need for reference librarians and research assistants, or the way massive open online courses reduce the need for professors and lecturers. How these new technologies affect worker well-being and inequality depends on who owns them.
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  • Who benefits from the minimum wage—natives or migrants?

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

    Madeline Zavodny, December 2014
    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.
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  • What makes a good job? Job quality and job satisfaction

    Job satisfaction is important to well-being, but intervention may be needed only if markets are impeded from improving job quality

    Andrew E. Clark, December 2015
    Many measures of job satisfaction have been trending downward. Because jobs are a key part of most people’s lives, knowing what makes a good job (job quality) is vital to knowing how well society is doing. Integral to worker well-being, job quality also affects the labor market through related decisions on whether to work, whether to quit, and how much effort to put into a job. Empirical work on what constitutes a good job finds that workers value more than wages; they also value job security and interest in their work. Policy to affect job quality requires information on the cost of the different aspects of job quality and how much workers value them.
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  • What can be expected from productive inclusion programs?

    Grants and training programs are great complements to social assistance to help people out of poverty

    Jamele Rigolini, October 2016
    Productive inclusion programs provide an integrated package of services, such as grants and training, to promote self-employment and wage employment among the poor. They show promising long-term impacts, and are often proposed as a way to graduate the poor out of social assistance. Nevertheless, neither productive inclusion nor social assistance will be able to solve the broader poverty challenge independently. Rather, the future is in integrating productive inclusion into the existing social assistance system, though this poses several design, coordination, and implementation challenges.
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  • Wage coordination in new and old EU member states

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

    Riccardo Rovelli, January 2016
    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.
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  • Wage compression and the gender pay gap

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

    Lawrence M. Kahn, April 2015
    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.
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  • 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

    Giovanni Sulis, November 2015
    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.
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  • Union wage effects

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

    Alex Bryson, July 2014
    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.
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  • Unemployment benefits and unemployment

    The challenge of unemployment benefits is to protect workers while minimizing undesirable side effects

    Robert Moffitt, May 2014
    All developed economies have unemployment benefit programs to protect workers against major income losses during spells of unemployment. By enabling unemployed workers to meet basic consumption needs, the programs protect workers from having to sell their assets or accept jobs below their qualifications. The programs also help stabilize the economy during recessions. If benefits are too generous, however, the programs can lengthen unemployment and raise the unemployment rate. The policy challenge is to protect workers while minimizing undesirable side effects.
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