IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Distribution and determinants of lifetime unemployment


  • Schmillen, Achim
  • Möller, Joachim


The empirical literature on unemployment almost exclusively focuses on the duration of distinct unemployment spells. In contrast, we use a unique administrative micro data set for the time span 1975–2004 to investigate individual lifetime unemployment — defined as the cumulative length of all unemployment spells over a 25-year period. This new perspective enables us to answer questions regarding the long-term distribution and determinants of unemployment for birth cohorts 1950–1954. We show that lifetime unemployment is highly concentrated on a small part of the population. With censored quantile regressions we investigate the long-lasting influence of bad luck early in the professional career: Controlling for individual and firm characteristics we find that choosing at a young age what turns out to be an unfavorable occupation significantly increases the predicted amount of lifetime unemployment.

Suggested Citation

  • Schmillen, Achim & Möller, Joachim, 2012. "Distribution and determinants of lifetime unemployment," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 33-47.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:19:y:2012:i:1:p:33-47
    DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2011.06.013

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Emilia Del Bono & Andrea Weber, 2008. "Do Wages Compensate for Anticipated Working Time Restrictions? Evidence from Seasonal Employment in Austria," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26, pages 181-221.
    2. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2009. "Occupational Specificity Of Human Capital," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 50(1), pages 63-115, February.
    3. Stefan Bender & Till von Wachter, 2006. "In the Right Place at the Wrong Time: The Role of Firms and Luck in Young Workers' Careers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1679-1705, December.
    4. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 1998. "The European Unemployment Dilemma," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 514-550, June.
    5. Yannis Bilias & Roger Koenker, 2001. "Quantile regression for duration data: A reappraisal of the Pennsylvania Reemployment Bonus Experiments," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 199-220.
    6. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
    7. Boyan Jovanovic & Jeremy Greenwood, 1999. "The Information-Technology Revolution and the Stock Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 116-122, May.
    8. Elke Lüdemann & Ralf Wilke & Xuan Zhang, 2006. "Censored quantile regressions and the length of unemployment periods in West Germany," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 31(4), pages 1003-1024, November.
    9. Jacob Mincer, 1991. "Education and Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 3838, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Machado, Jose A F & Santos Silva, Joao M C, 2008. "Quantiles for Fractions and Other Mixed Data," Economics Discussion Papers 3550, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
    11. Bernd Fitzenberger & Ralf A. Wilke, 2010. "Unemployment Durations in West Germany Before and After the Reform of the Unemployment Compensation System during the 1980s," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 11, pages 336-366, August.
    12. Fitzenberger, Bernd & Winker, Peter, 2007. "Improving the computation of censored quantile regressions," Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 88-108, September.
    13. Arulampalam, Wiji & Booth, Alison L & Taylor, Mark P, 2000. "Unemployment Persistence," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 52(1), pages 24-50, January.
    14. Koenker, Roger, 2008. "Censored Quantile Regression Redux," Journal of Statistical Software, Foundation for Open Access Statistics, vol. 27(i06).
    15. Bande, Roberto & Fernández, Melchor & Montuenga, Víctor, 2008. "Regional unemployment in Spain: Disparities, business cycle and wage setting," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 885-914, October.
    16. Adriaan S. Kalwij, 2004. "Unemployment Experiences of Young Men: on the Road to Stable Employment?," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 66(2), pages 205-237, May.
    17. Koenker, Roger W & Bassett, Gilbert, Jr, 1978. "Regression Quantiles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(1), pages 33-50, January.
    18. Burgess, Simon & Propper, Carol & Rees, Hedley & Shearer, Arran, 2003. "The class of 1981: the effects of early career unemployment on subsequent unemployment experiences," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 291-309, June.
    19. Buchinsky, Moshe, 1994. "Changes in the U.S. Wage Structure 1963-1987: Application of Quantile Regression," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 405-458, March.
    20. Powell, James L., 1986. "Censored regression quantiles," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 143-155, June.
    21. Gustavsen, Geir Waehler & Jolliffe, Dean & Rickertsen, Kyrre, 2008. "Censored Quantile Regression and Purchases of Ice Cream," 2008 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2008, Orlando, Florida 6534, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    22. Jacob Mincer, 1991. "Education and Unemployment of Women," NBER Working Papers 3837, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. Oddbjørn Raaum & Knut Røed, 2006. "Do Business Cycle Conditions at the Time of Labor Market Entry Affect Future Employment Prospects?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(2), pages 193-210, May.
    24. Hung-Lin Tao & Chia-Hung Li, 2007. "The impact of sectoral shifts and the aggregate labour market on unemployment duration," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(7), pages 915-926.
    25. Jean-Paul Chavas & Matthew T. Holt, 1991. "On Nonlinear Dynamics: The Case of the Pork Cycle," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 73(3), pages 819-828.
    26. Ludsteck, Johannes & Haupt, Harald, 2007. "An Empirical Test of the Reder Hypothesis," Discussion Papers in Economics 1397, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    27. Hong H. & Chernozhukov V., 2002. "Three-Step Censored Quantile Regression and Extramarital Affairs," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 97, pages 872-882, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Riphahn, Regina T. & Schnitzlein, Daniel D., 2016. "Wage mobility in East and West Germany," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 11-34.
    2. Michael Lucht & Anette Haas, 2012. "Heterogeneous Firms and Substitution by Tasks: the Productivity Effect of Migrants," ERSA conference papers ersa12p894, European Regional Science Association.
    3. Pollmann, Daniel & Dohmen, Thomas & Palm, Franz C., 2012. "Robust Estimation of Wage Dispersion with Censored Data: An Application to Occupational Earnings Risk and Risk Attitudes," IZA Discussion Papers 6447, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Wölfel, Oliver & Heineck, Guido, 2012. "Parental risk attitudes and children's secondary school track choice," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 727-743.
    5. Müller, Steffen & Neubäumer, Renate, 2016. "Size of Training Firms and Cumulated Long-run Unemployment Exposure – The Role of Firms, Luck, and Ability in Young Workers’ Careers," IWH Discussion Papers 5/2016, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).
    6. Anette Haas & Michael Lucht & Norbert Schanne, 2012. "Why to employ both migrants and natives? A study on task-specific substitutability," Norface Discussion Paper Series 2012026, Norface Research Programme on Migration, Department of Economics, University College London.
    7. Schmillen, Achim & Umkehrer, Matthias, 2013. "The scars of youth : effects of early-career unemployment on future unemployment experience," IAB Discussion Paper 201306, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].
    8. Müller, Steffen & Neubäumer, Renate, 2016. "Size of Training Firms: The Role of Firms, Luck, and Ability in Young Workers' Careers," IZA Discussion Papers 9806, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    Lifetime unemployment; Censored quantile regressions; Occupation-specific human capital;

    JEL classification:

    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:19:y:2012:i:1:p:33-47. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.