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98 Working Paper

Labor Market Institutions and Unemployment:A Critical Assessment of the Cross-Country Evidence

Apr 22, 2024 – Dean Baker, Andrew Glyn, David Howell and John Schmitt


In the last twenty five years, there has been a sharp divergence in trends in the unemployment rate among OECD countries, with some seeing much larger increases in unemployment than others. This divergence is usually explained by institutions that lead to labor market inflexibility – generous unemployment benefits, employment protections, and strong unions – in countries with high unemployment rates. This paper examines the evidence for this view. It shows that there is no simple bivariate relationship between standard measures of labor market institutions and unemployment rates across countries. It then critically examines several of the most often cited studies that support the labor market inflexibility view. It finds that these studies present relatively weak and to some extent contradictory support for the labor market inflexibility view. Finally, the paper presents the results of a set of tests designed to replicate some of the earlier multivariate analyses with more current data. These tests consistently fail to find robust evidence to support the labor market inflexibility view.