Anna Stansbury, Lawrence Summers, 20 February 2018

Since 1973, there has been divergence between labour productivity and the typical worker’s pay in the US as productivity has continued to grow strongly and growth in average compensation has slowed substantially. This column explores the causes and implications of this trend. Productivity growth appears to have continued to push workers’ wages up, with other factors to blame for the divergence. The evidence casts doubt on the idea that rapid technological progress is the primary driver here, suggesting rather that institutional and structural factors are to blame.

Benjamin Villena-Roldán, Stefano Banfi, 17 February 2018

Researchers often pick a random or a directed search model based on convenience and theoretical implications, but distinguishing between the two is important as many labour market regulations may be welfare-improving under random search, but not under directed search. This column uses data from Chile to show that job-seekers respond to information posted by employers, suggesting that policy design should consider the prescriptions of directed search models.  However, the evidence also shows that relevant features of these markets are not well captured by existing models.

Gaetano Basso, Giovanni Peri, Ahmed Rahman, 12 January 2018

The US and Europe have both seen wage polarisation in the last three decades, in parallel with increasing technical automation. This column analyses the impact of immigration on this wage divergence via its effect on the labour supply side. It finds that immigration partially reverses natives’ polarisation of employment opportunities and wages by expanding aggregate demand and allowing natives to move to better paying occupations. Policies to reduce low-skilled migration with the aim of favouring native middle-class labour market opportunities may in fact do the opposite.

Pierre Cahuc, Stéphane Carcillo, Thomas Le Barbanchon, 09 January 2018

Despite their widespread use in the US and across Europe during the Global Crisis, the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of hiring credits is unclear, particularly in the context of recessions. This column uses the French hiring credit programme of 2008-09 to show that credits can be very effective at boosting job creation at low cost when they are unanticipated and temporary.

Ravi Kanbur, 08 January 2018

Technological innovation is broadly accepted as a driving force behind diverging wage trends in the last three decades. If this is set to continue, policymakers must choose how to respond to the ensuing income inequality. This column assesses two established policy response ideas – state-sponsored formal education, and tax and transfer mechanisms – and postulates a third, namely, that the pace and distributional effects of technological change should themselves be policy goals. A policy intervention that would make innovation more labour intensive would be the most powerful response of all.

Clemens Fuest, Andreas Peichl, Sebastian Siegloch, 10 October 2017

Economists tend to think that the corporate tax burden is shared between labour and capital, but even among researchers in the field there is substantial disagreement over how much of the burden is shifted to workers. This column exploits variations in local business tax rates in Germany to identify the corporate tax incidence on wages. On average, more than half of the corporate tax burden is passed onto workers, implying a reduced overall progressivity of the German tax system.

Giuseppe Berlingieri, Patrick Blanchenay, Chiara Criscuolo, 15 May 2017

Some firms pay well while others don’t; and some are highly productive while many aren’t. This column presents new firm-level data on the increasing dispersion of wages and productivity in both the manufacturing and services sectors in 16 OECD countries. Wage inequalities are growing between firms, even those operating in the same sector – and they are linked to growing differences between high and low productivity firms. Both globalisation and technological progress (notably information and communications technologies) influence these outcomes – as do policies and institutions such as minimum wages, employment protection legislation, unions, and processes of wage-setting.

Julián Messina, Oskar Nordström Skans, Mikael Carlsson, 23 October 2016

While standard microeconomic theory suggests that firms have no power over setting wages when markets are perfectly competitive, this view obviously clashes with the perceptions of the casual observer. This column uses data from Sweden to investigate the extent to which differences in firms’ pay are related to differences in physical productivity. It finds that firms that benefit from positive productivity shocks increase the wages of incumbent workers, and in particular firms among which there is substantial labour mobility. The evolution of productivity among such firms appears to be a crucial determinant of workers’ wages.

Sergei Guriev, Biagio Speciale, Michele Tuccio, 13 September 2016

A common explanation for the growth in unemployment in southern Europe after the Great Recession is lack of flexibility in over-regulated labour markets. This column examines wage adjustment in regulated and unregulated labour markets in Italy during the recent crisis. Using data on immigrant workers, it shows that before the crisis wages in the formal and informal sectors moved in parallel. During the crisis, however, formal wages did not adjust downwards, while informal labour wages did. Greater flexibility in wages in the formal market could slow the decline in employment.

Gianni De Fraja, Giovanni Facchini, John Gathergood, 03 August 2016

The positive relationship between wages and firm performance is well established in the literature, but much less is known about the relationship in the university context. This column addresses this gap by matching professors' wages with departmental performance measures from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. Across the full range of academic disciplines, departments that pay their professors more do appear to perform better. This is driven primarily by the relationship between salary and publications output, with no evidence of a positive relationship between salary and research impact.

Denis Fougère, Erwan Gautier, Sébastien Roux, 28 May 2016

In light of the Eurozone Crisis, some countries have implemented reforms to collective wage bargaining institutions, which can be responsible for wage rigidities that are problematic in the face of rising unemployment. This column describes collective wage bargaining in France and how national minimum wage increases are transmitted to wage floors set by industry-level agreements. An increase in the national minimum wage leads to an increase in negotiated industry-level wage floors, which firms then use as references for their wage policy. This might partly explain why French base wages have continued to increase despite recent rising unemployment.

Luca Fumarco, Giambattista Rossi, 23 April 2016

A vast cross-discipline literature provides evidence that — in both education and sports — the youngest children in their age group are usually at a disadvantage because of within-group-age maturity differences, known as the ‘relative age effect’. This column asks whether this effect could last into adulthood. Looking at Italian professional footballers’ wages, the evidence suggests that the relative age effect is inescapable.

André Sapir, 12 February 2016

Misalignments of real exchange rates continue to be the most visible and painful symptom of asymmetric shocks within the Eurozone. An important factor behind such misalignment is the difference in national wage formation and bargaining systems, especially between core and periphery members. This column argues that all members need to have institutions that ensure wage developments are in line with productivity developments. This would eliminate an important source of asymmetric behaviour and reduce resistance to EZ-wide fiscal mechanisms capable of absorbing asymmetric shocks.

John Gibson, David McKenzie, Halahingao Rohorua, Steven Stillman, 26 January 2016

Wage differences across countries offer individuals the possibility of huge wage gains through moving abroad. This column uses data on lottery-selected migrants from Tonga to New Zealand to assess the effect on productivity and wages for workers moving from a poor country to a rich country. These randomly selected workers appear to be immediately more productive, and their wage gains are stable over time. It seems that cross-country wage differences are due to better institutions, higher quality capital, and other factors in rich countries that serve to raise the productivity of all workers, whether natives or migrants.

James Feyrer, Erin Mansur, Bruce Sacerdote, 16 November 2015

Fracking has driven an oil and natural gas boom in the US over the past decade. This column examines the impact these mining activities have had on local and regional economies. US counties enjoy significant economic benefits, including increased wages and new job creation. These effects grow as the geographic radius is extended to include neighbouring areas in the region. The results suggest that the fracking boom provided some insulation for these areas during the Great Recession, and lowered national unemployment by as much as 0.5%.

Luca Flabbi, Mario Macis, Andrea Moro, Fabiano Schivardi, 24 April 2015

Despite the convergence between men and women in many labour market indicators, women are still vastly underrepresented at the boardroom level. Using Italian data, this column presents new evidence on the impact of having a female CEO on the distribution of wages for male and female workers within firms. Female CEOs are shown to reduce the gender wage gap at the top of the wage distribution but widen it at the bottom. The authors also show that firms with female CEOs perform better, the higher the fraction of women in the firm’s workforce.

Juan Carluccio, Denis Fougère, Erwan Gautier, 14 April 2015

International trade has significant effects on domestic labour demand. It opens up new markets for export, but also creates opportunities for off-shoring. This column presents the results of a study on trade, wages and collective bargaining using data on French manufacturing firms. Both exporting and offshoring are found to have positive effects on wages, with collective bargaining agreements, particularly those at the firm-level, seeing greater wage gains for all types of worker.

Jason Furman, 20 February 2015

The US economy has strengthened considerably in recent years, presenting an opportunity to address the 40-year stagnation in incomes for the middle class. This column provides historical and international context for the key factors affecting middle-class incomes: productivity growth, labour force participation, and income inequality. It also outlines President Obama’s approach to economic policies – what he terms “middle-class economics” – which is designed to improve all three.