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Reduction of Working Time: Does it Decrease Unemployment?

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  • Axel Börsch-Supan

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    (Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA))

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    Abstract

    Over and again, the reduction of working time is praised as the instrument against unemployment in Europe. While the first round argument appears obvious – less work for some will create more work for others – second round repercussions, such as consequential labor cost increases, put doubt on the validity of the argument. As frequently, empirical evidence would be helpful to shed light on this important debate. This paper reviews the theoretical arguments and the empirical evidence on the effects of reduced weekly working time on unemployment. Given the prominence in the European popular discussion, the scientific literature is astoundingly thin on the topic. The main findings can be summarized as follows: There are theoretical arguments that can form the basis for a positive effect on employment in response to a reduction in working time. However, they rest on strong assumptions that appear counterfactual. Econometric studies show little or negative effects on employment in Germany. Only a set of simulation studies predicts a positive employment effect – but again, they appear to rest on counterfactual assumptions. Hence, while the reduction of work hours may have increased workers’ utility – a legitimate goal of the unions – it does not appear to be justified as a cure against unemployment.

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    Paper provided by Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in its series MEA discussion paper series with number 02003.

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    Date of creation: 14 Jan 2002
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    Handle: RePEc:mea:meawpa:02003

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    1. Anil K. Kashyap, 1990. "Sticky prices: new evidence from retail catalogs," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 112, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    2. Hunt, Jennifer, 1996. "The Response of Wages and Actual Hours Worked to the Reduction of Standard Hours in Germany," CEPR Discussion Papers 1526, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Jennifer Hunt, 1998. "Hours Reductions as Work-Sharing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 339-381.
    4. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Social Security and Retirement around the World," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub99-1.
    5. Borsch-Supan, Axel & Schnabel, Reinhold, 1998. "Social Security and Declining Labor-Force Participation in Germany," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 173-78, May.
    6. Toedter, Karl-Heinz, 1988. "Effects of shorter hours on employment in disequilibrium models," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 1319-1333, July.
    7. Hunt, Jennifer, 1997. "Has Work Sharing Worked in Germany?," CEPR Discussion Papers 1553, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Konig, Heinz & Pohlmeier, Winfried, 1988. "Employment, Labour Utilization and Procyclical Labour Productivity," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(4), pages 551-72.
    9. Entorf, Horst & Konig, Heinz & Pohlmeier, Winfried, 1992. " Labor Utilization and Nonwage Labor Costs in a Disequilibrium Macro Framework," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 94(1), pages 71-83.
    10. Alan S. Blinder, 1994. "On Sticky Prices: Academic Theories Meet the Real World," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy, pages 117-154 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Is work sharing an answer for high unemployment?
      by James Pethokoukis in AEIdeas on 2012-06-13 15:15:00

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