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Article

The key question for the economics of international migration is whether observed real wage differentials across countries for workers with identical intrinsic productivity represent an economic inefficiency sustained by legal barriers to labor mobility between geographies. A simple comparison of the real wages of workers with the same level of formal schooling or performing similar occupations across countries shows massive gaps between rich and poorer countries. These gaps persist after adjusting for observed and unobserved human capital characteristics, suggesting a “place premium”—or space-specific wage differentials that are not due to intrinsic worker productivity but rather are due to a misallocation of labor. If wage gaps are not due to intrinsic worker productivity, then the incentive for workers to move to richer countries is high. The idea of a place premium is corroborated by macroeconomic evidence. National accounts data show large cross-country output per worker differences, driven by the divergence of total factor productivity. The lack of convergence in total factor productivity and corresponding spatial productivity differentials create differences in the marginal product of factors, and hence persistent gaps in the wages of equal productivity workers. These differentials can equalize with factor flows; however their persistence and large magnitude in the case of labor, suggest legal barriers to migration restricting labor flows are in fact constraining significant return on human capital, and leaving billions in unrealized gains to the world’s workers and global economy. A relaxation of these barriers would generate worker welfare gains that dwarf gold-standard poverty reduction programs.

Article

Marriage and labor market outcomes are deeply related, particularly for women. A large literature finds that the labor supply decisions of married women respond to their husbands’ employment status, wages, and job characteristics. There is also evidence that the effects of spouse characteristics on labor market outcomes operate not just through standard neoclassical cross-wage and income effects but also through household bargaining and gender norm effects, in which the relative incomes of husband and wife affect the distribution of marital surplus, marital satisfaction, and marital stability. Marriage market characteristics affect marital status and spouse characteristics, as well as the outside option, and therefore bargaining power, within marriage. Marriage market characteristics can therefore affect premarital investments, which ultimately affect labor market outcomes within marriage and also affect labor supply decisions within marriage conditional on these premarital investments.

Article

The literature on the employment effects of minimum wages is about a century old, and includes hundreds of studies. Yet the debate among researchers about the employment effects of minimum wages remains intense and unsettled. Questions have arisen in the past research that, if answered, may prove most useful in making sense of the conflicting evidence. However, additional questions should be considered to better inform the policy debate, in particular in the context of the very high minimum wages coming on line in the United States, about which past research is quite uninformative.

Article

Samuel Bentolila, Juan J. Dolado, and Juan F. Jimeno

This article provides an overview of empirical and theoretical research on dual labor markets. It revisits the labor-market effects of dual employment protection legislation as well as the main factors behind its resilience. Characterized by a high incidence of temporary contracts, which may lead to stepping-stone or dead-end jobs, dual labor markets exhibit specific features regarding the determination of employment, unemployment, churn, training, productivity growth, wages, and labor market flows. Relying on the contrasting experiences of several OECD countries with different degrees of duality and, in particular, on the very poor employment performance of some EU countries during the Great Recession, lessons are drawn about policy-reform strategies aiming to correct the inefficiencies of dual labor markets.

Article

Brant Abbott and Giovanni Gallipoli

This article focuses on the distribution of human capital and its implications for the accrual of economic resources to individuals and households. Human capital inequality can be thought of as measuring disparity in the ownership of labor factors of production, which are usually compensated in the form of wage income. Earnings inequality is tightly related to human capital inequality. However, it only measures disparity in payments to labor rather than dispersion in the market value of the underlying stocks of human capital. Hence, measures of earnings dispersion provide a partial and incomplete view of the underlying distribution of productive skills and of the income generated by way of them. Despite its shortcomings, a fairly common way to gauge the distributional implications of human capital inequality is to examine the distribution of labor income. While it is not always obvious what accounts for returns to human capital, an established approach in the empirical literature is to decompose measured earnings into permanent and transitory components. A second approach focuses on the lifetime present value of earnings. Lifetime earnings are, by definition, an ex post measure only observable at the end of an individual’s working lifetime. One limitation of this approach is that it assigns a value based on one of the many possible realizations of human capital returns. Arguably, this ignores the option value associated with alternative, but unobserved, potential earning paths that may be valuable ex ante. Hence, ex post lifetime earnings reflect both the genuine value of human capital and the impact of the particular realization of unpredictable shocks (luck). A different but related measure focuses on the ex ante value of expected lifetime earnings, which differs from ex post (realized) lifetime earnings insofar as they account for the value of yet-to-be-realized payoffs along different potential earning paths. Ex ante expectations reflect how much an individual reasonably anticipates earning over the rest of their life based on their current stock of human capital, averaging over possible realizations of luck and other income shifters that may arise. The discounted value of different potential paths of future earnings can be computed using risk-less or state-dependent discount factors.

Article

Obesity is widely recognized as a chronic disease characterized by an elevated risk of adverse health conditions in association with excess body fat accumulation. Obesity prevalence reached epidemic proportions among adults in the developed world during the second half of the 20th century, and it has since become a major public health concern around the world, particularly among children and adolescents. The economics of childhood and adolescent obesity is a multi-faceted field of study that considers the numerous determinants, consequences, and interventions related to obesity in those populations. The central economic framework for studying obesity is a life-cycle decision-making model of health investment. Health-promoting investments, such as nutritional food, healthcare, and physical activity, interact with genetic structure and risky health behaviors, such as unhealthy food consumption, to generate an accumulation or decumulation of excess body fat over time. Childhood and adolescence are the primary phases of physical and cognitive growth, so researchers study how obesity contributes to, and is affected by, the growth processes. The subdiscipline of behavioral economics offers an important complementary perspective on health investment decision processes, particularly for children and adolescents, because health investments and participation in risky health behaviors are not always undertaken rationally or consistently over time. In addition to examining the proximate causes of obesity over the life cycle, economists study obesity’s economic context and resulting economic burden. For example, economists study how educational attainment, income, and labor market features, such as wage and work hours, affect childhood and adolescent obesity in a household. Once obesity has developed, its economic burden is typically measured in terms of excess healthcare costs associated with increased health risks due to higher obesity prevalence, such as earlier onset of, and more severe, diabetes. Obesity among children and adolescents can lead to even higher healthcare costs because of its early influence on the lifetime trajectory of health and its potential disruption of healthy development. The formulation of effective policy responses to the obesity epidemic is informed by economic research. Economists evaluate whether steps to address childhood and adolescent obesity represent investments in health and well-being that yield private and social benefits, and they study whether existing market structures fail to appropriately motivate such investments. Potential policy interventions include taxation of, or restricting access to, obesogenic foods and other products, subsidization of educational programs about healthy foods and physical activity inside and outside of schools, ensuring health insurance coverage for obesity-related preventive and curative healthcare services, and investment in the development of new treatments and medical technologies.

Article

Sherry Glied and Richard Frank

Mental health economics addresses problems that are common to all of health economics, but that occur with greater severity in this context. Several characteristics of mental health conditions—age of onset, chronicity, observability, and external effects—make them particularly economically challenging, and a range of policies have evolved to address these problems. The need for insurance—and for social insurance—to address mental health problems has grown. There is an expanding number of effective treatments available for mental health conditions, and these treatments can be relatively costly. The particular characteristics of mental health conditions exacerbate the usual problems of moral hazard, adverse selection, and agency. There is increased recognition, in both the policy and economics literatures, of the array of services and supports required to enable people with severe mental illnesses to function in society’s mainstream. The need for such non-medical services, generates economic problems of cross-system coordination and opportunism. Moreover, the impairments imposed by mental disorders have become more disruptive to the labor market because the nature of work is changing in a manner that creates special disadvantages to people with these conditions. New directions for mental health economics would address these effects.

Article

While economists overwhelmingly favor free trade, even unilateral free trade, because of the gains realizable from specialization and the exploitation of comparative advantage, in fact international trading relations are structured by a complex body of multilateral and preferential trade agreements. The article outlines the case for multilateral trade agreements and the non-discrimination principle that they embody, in the form of both the Most Favored Nation principle and the National Treatment principle, where non-discrimination has been widely advocated as supporting both geopolitical goals (reducing economic factionalism) and economic goals (ensuring the full play of theories of comparative advantage undistorted by discriminatory trade treatment). Despite the virtues of multilateral trade agreements, preferential trade agreements (PTAs), authorized from the outset under GATT, have proliferated in recent years, even though they are inherently discriminatory between members and non-members, provoking vigorous debates as to whether (a) PTAs are trade-creating or trade-diverting; (b) whether they increase transaction costs in international trade; and (c) whether they undermine the future course of multilateral trade liberalization. A further and similarly contentious derogation from the principle of non-discrimination under the multilateral system is Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries, where since the mid-1950s developing countries have been given much greater latitude than developed countries to engage in trade protectionism on the import side in order to promote infant industries, and since the mid-1960s on the export side have benefited from non-reciprocal trade concessions by developed countries on products of actual or potential export interest to developing countries. Beyond debates over the strengths and weaknesses of multilateral trade agreements and the two major derogations therefrom, further debates surround the appropriate scope of trade agreements, and in particular the expansion of their scope in recent decades to address divergences or incompatibilities across a wide range of domestic regulatory and related policies that arguably create frictions in cross-border trade and investment and hence constitute an impediment to it. The article goes on to consider contemporary fair trade versus free trade debates, including concerns over trade deficits, currency manipulation, export subsidies, misappropriation of intellectual property rights, and lax labor or environmental standards. The article concludes with a consideration of the case for a larger scope for plurilateral trade agreements internationally, and for a larger scope for active labor market policies domestically to mitigate transition costs from trade.

Article

Occupations are a key characteristic for analyzing momentous changes in economy and society. Classical economists rooted their analyses in occupational divisions, emphasizing the division of work and its continuous evolution. Modern economists and economic historians also debate the wealth of nations by looking at the global changes in the labor force, at changing labor force participation rates, at winners and losers in the class structure, and in variations in this across the globe—stressing the importance of human capital for work and of changes therein for economic growth. To study such momentous changes over past centuries, historical occupational data are needed as well as measures and procedures to work with these data systematically and comparatively. The Historical International Standard Classification of Occupations (HISCO) maps occupational titles into a common coding scheme across the globe. HISCO-based measures of economic sector and economic specialization have been derived. To answer a number of interesting questions, the HISCO family has been extended to include HISCO-based measures of social status (HISCAM) and social classes (HISCLASS). Armed with his toolbox, scholars are able to study the development of the economy and society over past centuries.

Article

Courtney Van Houtven, Fiona Carmichael, Josephine Jacobs, and Peter C. Coyte

Across the globe, the most common means of supporting older disabled adults in their homes is through “informal care.” An informal carer is a family member or friend, including children or adults, who help another person because of their illness, frailty, or disability. There is a rich economics literature on the direct benefits of caregiving, including allowing the care recipient to remain at home for longer than if there was no informal care provided. There is also a growing literature outlining the associated costs of care provision. Although informal care helps individuals with disabilities to remain at home and is rewarding to many carers, there are often negative effects such as depression and lost labor market earnings that may offset some of these rewards. Economists have taken several approaches to quantify the net societal benefit of informal care that consider the degree of choice in caregiving decisions and all direct and indirect benefits and costs of informal care.

Article

Gregory Colman, Dhaval Dave, and Otto Lenhart

Health insurance depends on labor market activity more in the U.S. than in any other high-income country. A majority of the population are insured through an employer (known as employer-sponsored insurance or ESI), benefiting from the risk pooling and economies of scale available to group insurance plans. Some workers may therefore be reluctant to leave a job for fear of losing such low-cost insurance, a tendency known as “job lock,” or may switch jobs or work more hours merely to obtain it, known as “job push.” Others obtain insurance through government programs for which eligibility depends on income. They too may adapt their work effort to remain eligible for insurance. Those without access to ESI or who are too young or earn too much to qualify for public coverage (Medicare and Medicaid) can buy insurance only in the individual or nongroup market, where prices are high and variable. Most studies using data from before the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 support the prediction that ESI reduced job mobility, labor-force participation, retirement, and self-employment prior to the ACA, but find little effect on the labor supply of public insurance. The ACA profoundly changed the health insurance market in the U.S., removing restrictions on obtaining insurance from new employers or on the individual market and expanding Medicaid eligibility to previously ineligible adults. Research on the ACA, however, has not found substantial labor supply effects. These results may reflect that the reforms to the individual market mainly affected those who were previously uninsured rather than workers with ESI, that the theoretical labor market effects of expansions in public coverage are ambiguous, and that the effect would be found only among the relatively small number on the fringes of eligibility.

Article

Ching-mu Chen and Shin-Kun Peng

For research attempting to investigate why economic activities are distributed unevenly across geographic space, new economic geography (NEG) provides a general equilibrium-based and microfounded approach to modeling a spatial economy characterized by a large variety of economic agglomerations. NEG emphasizes how agglomeration (centripetal) and dispersion (centrifugal) forces interact to generate observed spatial configurations and uneven distributions of economic activity. However, numerous economic geographers prefer to refer to the term new economic geographies as vigorous and diversified academic outputs that are inspired by the institutional-cultural turn of economic geography. Accordingly, the term geographical economics has been suggested as an alternative to NEG. Approaches for modeling a spatial economy through the use of a general equilibrium framework have not only rendered existing concepts amenable to empirical scrutiny and policy analysis but also drawn economic geography and location theories from the periphery to the center of mainstream economic theory. Reduced-form empirical studies have attempted to test certain implications of NEG. However, due to NEG’s simplified geographic settings, the developed NEG models cannot be easily applied to observed data. The recent development of quantitative spatial models based on the mechanisms formalized by previous NEG theories has been a breakthrough in building an empirically relevant framework for implementing counterfactual policy exercises. If quantitative spatial models can connect with observed data in an empirically meaningful manner, they can enable the decomposition of key theoretical mechanisms and afford specificity in the evaluation of the general equilibrium effects of policy interventions in particular settings. Several decades since its proposal, NEG has been criticized for its parsimonious assumptions about the economy across space and time. Therefore, existing challenges still require theoretical and quantitative models on new microfoundations pertaining to the interactions between economic agents across geographical space and the relationship between geography and economic development.