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Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom

  • Michael Keane
  • Richard Rogerson

The response of aggregate labor supply to various changes in the economic environment is central to many economic issues, especially the optimal design of tax policies. Conventional wisdom based on studies in the 1980s and 1990s has long held that the analysis of micro data leads one to conclude that aggregate labor supply elasticities are quite small. In this paper we argue that this conventional wisdom does not hold up to empirically reasonable and relevant extensions of simple life cycle models that served as the basis for these conclusions. In particular, we show that several pieces of conventional wisdom fail in the presence of human capital accumulation or labor supply decisions that allow for adjustment along both the extensive and intensive margin. We conclude that previous estimates of small labor supply elasticities based on micro data are fully consistent with large aggregate labor supply elasticities. (JEL D91, E24, J22)

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jel.50.2.464
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Literature.

Volume (Year): 50 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 464-76

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jeclit:v:50:y:2012:i:2:p:464-76
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jel.50.2.464
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  1. Eric French, 2004. "The Effects of Health, Wealth and Wages on Labor Supply and Retirement Behavior," 2004 Meeting Papers 96, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  2. Edward C. Prescott & Richard Rogerson & Johanna Wallenius, 2009. "Lifetime Aggregate Labor Supply with Endogenous Workweek Length," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(1), pages 23-36, January.
  3. Emmanuel Saez & Joel B. Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2009. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," NBER Working Papers 15012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Browning, Martin & Deaton, Angus & Irish, Margaret, 1985. "A Profitable Approach to Labor Supply and Commodity Demands over the Life-Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 53(3), pages 503-43, May.
  5. Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2007. "Heterogeneity and Aggregation: Implications for Labor-Market Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 1939-1956, December.
  6. Michael Keane, 2010. "Labor Supply and Taxes: A Survey," Working Paper Series 160, Finance Discipline Group, UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney.
  7. Domeij, David & Floden, Martin, 2001. "The labor-supply elasticity and borrowing constraints: Why estimates are biased," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 480, Stockholm School of Economics.
  8. Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim & Kyooho Kwon & Richard Rogerson, 2011. "Interpreting Labor Supply Regressions in a Model of Full- and Part-Time Work," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 476-81, May.
  9. Richard Rogerson, 2010. "Individual and Aggregate Labor Supply With Coordinated Working Times," NBER Working Papers 16636, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2003. "From Individual to Aggregate Labor Supply: A Quantitative Analysis Based on a Heterogeneous Agent Macroeconomy," Macroeconomics 0307003, EconWPA.
  11. Hamish Low, 2005. "Self-Insurance in a Life-Cycle Model of Labor Supply and Savings," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 8(4), pages 945-975, October.
  12. Heckman, James J, 1993. "What Has Been Learned about Labor Supply in the Past Twenty Years?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 116-21, May.
  13. Altonji, Joseph G, 1986. "Intertemporal Substitution in Labor Supply: Evidence from Micro Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages S176-S215, June.
  14. MaCurdy, Thomas E, 1981. "An Empirical Model of Labor Supply in a Life-Cycle Setting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(6), pages 1059-85, December.
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