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International Patterns of Union Membership


  • David G. Blanchflower


This paper examines changes in unionization that have occurred over the last decade or so using individual level micro data on many countries, with particular emphasis on the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. I document an empirical regularity not hitherto identified, namely the probability of being unionized follows an inverted U-shaped pattern in age, maximizing in the mid- to late 40s in 34 of the 38 countries I study. I consider the question of why union membership seems to follow a similar inverted U-shape pattern in age across countries with such diverse industrial relations systems. I find evidence that this arises in part because of cohort effects, but even when cohort effects are removed a U-shape remains. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2007.

Suggested Citation

  • David G. Blanchflower, 2007. "International Patterns of Union Membership," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 45(1), pages 1-28, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:brjirl:v:45:y:2007:i:1:p:1-28

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard B. Freeman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1995. "Differences and Changes in Wage Structures," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free95-1, January.
    2. John T. Addison & Claus Schnabel (ed.), 2003. "International Handbook of Trade Unions," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 2705.
    3. Freeman, Richard B. & Katz, Lawrence F. (ed.), 1995. "Differences and Changes in Wage Structures," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226261607.
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    Cited by:

    1. John Schmitt & Alexandra Mitukiewicz, 2012. "Politics matter: changes in unionisation rates in rich countries, 1960–2010," Industrial Relations Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(3), pages 260-280, May.
    2. Bernd Fitzenberger & Karsten Kohn & Qingwei Wang, 2011. "The erosion of union membership in Germany: determinants, densities, decompositions," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(1), pages 141-165, January.
    3. Schnabel Claus & Wagner Joachim, 2008. "The Aging of the Unions in West Germany, 1980–2006," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 228(5-6), pages 497-511, October.
    4. Brändle, Tobias & Baumann, Florian, 2013. "Union Bargaining and Intra-Industry Productivity Differentials: Theory and Evidence from Germany," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79852, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    5. Facchini, Giovanni & Mayda, Anna Maria & Mishra, Prachi, 2007. "Do Interest Groups Affect Immigration?," IZA Discussion Papers 3183, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2010. "The Wage Impact of Trade Unions in the UK Public and Private Sectors," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 77(305), pages 92-109, January.
    7. repec:spr:busres:v:10:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s40685-016-0039-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Jan Czarzasty & Katarzyna Gajewska & Adam Mrozowicki, 2014. "Institutions and Strategies: Trends and Obstacles to Recruiting Workers into Trade Unions in Poland," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 52(1), pages 112-135, March.
    9. Joachim Wagner, 2011. "From Estimation Results to Stylized Facts Twelve Recommendations for Empirical Research in International Activities of Heterogeneous Firms," De Economist, Springer, vol. 159(4), pages 389-412, December.
    10. Claus Schnabel & Joachim Wagner, 2012. "With or Without U? Testing the Hypothesis of an Inverted U-Shaped Union Membership-Age Relationship," Contemporary Economics, University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, vol. 6(4), December.
    11. Facchini, Giovanni & Mayda, Anna Maria & Mishra, Prachi, 2011. "Do interest groups affect US immigration policy?," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 114-128, September.
    12. Schnabel, Claus, 2012. "Union membership and density: Some (not so) stylized facts and challenges," Discussion Papers 81, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Chair of Labour and Regional Economics.
    13. Derek C. Jones & Panu Kalmi, 2013. "Cooperative enterprise," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise, chapter 8, pages 85-93 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    14. Jonathan E. Booth & John W. Budd & Kristen M. Munday, 2010. "Never Say Never? Uncovering the Never-Unionized in the United States," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 48(1), pages 26-52, March.
    15. Claus Schnabel & Joachim Wagner, 2008. "Union Membership and Age: The inverted U-shape hypothesis under test," Working Paper Series in Economics 107, University of Lüneburg, Institute of Economics.
    16. Jochen Michaelis & Martin Debus, 2011. "Wage and (un-)employment effects of an ageing workforce," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(4), pages 1493-1511, October.
    17. David Blanchflower & Richard Freeman, 1993. "The Legacy of Communist Labor Relations," CEP Discussion Papers dp0180, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    18. Giuseppe Bognetti & Michele Santoni, 2010. "Can domestic unions gain from offshoring?," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 100(1), pages 51-67, May.
    19. Niklas Potrafke, 2006. "Parties Matter in Allocating Expenditures: Evidence from Germany," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 652, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.

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