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Interpreting European and US Labour Market Differences: The Specificity of Human Capital Investments

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  • Wasmer, Etienne

Abstract

This Paper suggests that in the US context, workers tend to invest in general human capital especially since they face little employment protection and low unemployment benefits, while the European model (generous benefits and higher duration of jobs) favours specific human capital investments. This conjecture provides, among other things, a rationale for differences in labour mobility and reallocation costs, which are typically ignored in American ‘International Trade’ textbooks yet figure extremely large in the public debate in Europe. The main argument is based on a fundamental property of human capital investments: they are not independent of the aggregate state of labour markets, and, in particular, frictions and slackness of the labour market raise the returns to specific human capital investments relative to general capital investments. This is a property that Becker’s seminal contributions could not envisage in the context of perfect labour markets. Two sets of implications are then derived: on one hand, mobility costs are high in Europe and transitions between steady-states has especially strong adverse effects. Jobs endogenously last longer in Europe than in the US, but when they are destroyed, the welfare loss for workers is higher. On the other hand, in the steady-state, European workers, ceteris paribus, are more efficient. In terms of transaction costs, the US pay on average higher search/hiring costs in the labour market, and smaller training costs, so that the welfare implications of each type of economy are a priori ambiguous: no model dominates the other one, and each one has its own coherence, although the European one is more fragile when macroeconomic conditions change.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 3780.

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Date of creation: Jan 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:3780

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Keywords: general human capital; matching; specific human capital; training; unemployment;

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References

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Cited by:
  1. Guido Schwerdt & Jarkko Turunen, 2007. "Growth In Euro Area Labor Quality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 53(4), pages 716-734, December.
  2. Berthold, Norbert & Neumann, Michael & Zenzen, Jupp, 2007. "Die Zukunft der Arbeit: Verdopplung, Entkopplung, regionale Divergenz?," Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Beiträge 96, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Lehrstuhl für Volkswirtschaftslehre, insbes. Wirtschaftsordnung und Sozialpolitik.
  3. Zemanek, Holger & Belke, Ansgar & Schnabl, Gunther, 2009. "Current Account Imbalances and Structural Adjustment in the Euro Area: How to Rebalance Competitiveness," IZA Policy Papers 7, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Gervais, Martin & Livshits, Igor & Meh, Césaire, 2008. "Uncertainty and the specificity of human capital," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 143(1), pages 469-498, November.
  5. Holger Zemanek & Ansgar Belke & Gunther Schnabl, 2010. "Current account balances and structural adjustment in the euro area," International Economics and Economic Policy, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 83-127, May.
  6. Alfred Garloff & Anja Kuckulenz, 2006. "Training, Mobility, and Wages: Specific Versus General Human Capital," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Department of Statistics and Economics, vol. 226(1), pages 55-81, January.
  7. Guido Schwerdt & Jarkko Turunen, 2007. "Changes in Human Capital: Implications for Productivity Growth in the Euro Area," Ifo Working Paper Series Ifo Working Paper No. 53, Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
  8. Grip Andries de, 2006. "Evaluating Human Capital Obsolescence," ROA Working Paper 001, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
  9. Juan F. Jimeno & Esther Moral & Lorena Saiz, 2006. "Structural breaks in labor productivity growth: the United States vs. the European Union," Banco de Espa�a Working Papers 0625, Banco de Espa�a.

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