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

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  • Michael Keane
  • Richard Rogerson

Abstract

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)

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Keane & Richard Rogerson, 2012. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(2), pages 464-476, June.
  • 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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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Domeij & Martin Floden, 2006. "The Labor-Supply Elasticity and Borrowing Constraints: Why Estimates are Biased," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(2), pages 242-262, April.
    2. Eric French, 2005. "The Effects of Health, Wealth, and Wages on Labour Supply and Retirement Behaviour," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 72(2), pages 395-427.
    3. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    4. 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.
    5. Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2006. "From Individual To Aggregate Labor Supply: A Quantitative Analysis Based On A Heterogeneous Agent Macroeconomy ," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 47(1), pages 1-27, February.
    6. 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 503-543, May.
    7. 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.
    8. 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 1059-1085, December.
    9. 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 116-121, May.
    10. 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 476-481, May.
    11. Michael P. Keane, 2011. "Labor Supply and Taxes: A Survey," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(4), pages 961-1075, December.
    12. 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 176-215, June.
    13. Richard Rogerson, 2011. "Individual and Aggregate Labor Supply with Coordinated Working Times," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 43, pages 7-37, August.
    14. 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.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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