IZA World of Labor

Wage setting

  • Do firms’ wage-setting powers increase during recessions?

    Monopsony models question the classic view of wage-setting and reveal a new reason why wages may decrease during recessions

    Todd Sorensen, April 2017
    Traditional models of the labor market typically assume that wages are set by the market, not the firm. However, over the last 15 years, a growing body of empirical research has provided evidence against this assumption. Recent studies suggest that a monopsonistic model, where individual firms and not the market set wages, may be more appropriate. This model attributes more wage-setting power to firms, particularly during economic downturns, which helps explain why wages decrease during recessions. This holds important implications for policymakers attempting to combat lost worker income during economic downturns.
  • 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

    Vincenzo Caponi, January 2017
    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.
  • Gender differences in wages and leadership

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

    Mario Macis, January 2017
    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.
  • Efficiency wages: Variants and implications

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

    Ekkehart Schlicht, July 2016
    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?

    Claus Schnabel, July 2016
    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

    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

    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.
  • The rise and fall of piecework

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

    Robert A. Hart, April 2016
    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?
  • The effects of minimum wages on youth employment and income

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

    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?

    Bruno Van der Linden, March 2016
    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?
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