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Wages in the Federal and Private Sectors

In: Public Sector Payrolls

  • Steven F. Venti

This study addresses the legal principle of "comparability" that ties federal sector wages to wages in the private sector. We first examine comparability by determining if workers with similar observed and unobserved characteristics receive the same wages in each sector. Estimates based on data from the 1982 CPS indicate males may have a slight wage advantage in the federal sector. Female workers earn substantially more in the federal sector than inthe private sector. We then develop a choice-theoretic approach to the issue of comparability by applying a simple supply argument: a cost-minimizing federal employer would pay wages no higher than necessary to attract employees and eliminate queues for federal jobs. If the market pays equalizing differences for unique attributes of each sector, then this approach is not consistent with wage equality between the sectors. A model jointly determining sectoral attachment and wage offers is estimated by maximum likelihood. Results suggest the elimination of queues will require substantial wage reductions for both male and female federal employees.

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This chapter was published in:
  • David A. Wise, 1987. "Public Sector Payrolls," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise87-1, October.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 7153.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7153
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    Web page: http://www.nber.orgEmail:


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    1. E.K. Berndt & B.H. Hall & R.E. Hall, 1974. "Estimation and Inference in Nonlinear Structural Models," NBER Chapters, in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 3, number 4, pages 103-116 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Don Bellante & Albert N. Link, 1981. "Are public sector workers more risk averse than private sector workers?," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 34(3), pages 408-412, April.
    3. Sherwin Rosen, 1983. "The Equilibrium Approach to Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 1165, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Robert S. Smith & Ronald G. Ehrenberg, 1981. "Estimating Wage-Fringe Trade-Offs: Some Data Problems," NBER Working Papers 0827, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Brown, Charles, 1980. "Equalizing Differences in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 113-34, February.
    6. Duncan, Greg J & Holmlund, Bertil, 1983. "Was Adam Smith Right after All? Another Test of the Theory of Compensating Wage Differentials," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(4), pages 366-79, October.
    7. Sharon P. Smith, 1976. "Pay differential between federal government and private sector workers," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 29(2), pages 179-197, January.
    8. Robert S. Smith, 1979. "Compensating wage differentials and public policy: A review," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 32(3), pages 339-362, April.
    9. Richard B. Freeman, 1987. "How Do Public Sector Wages and Employment Respond to Economic Conditions?," NBER Chapters, in: Public Sector Payrolls, pages 183-216 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Joseph F. Quinn, 1979. "Wage Differentials among Older Workers in the Public and Private Sectors," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 14(1), pages 41-62.
    11. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
    12. Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Joshua L. Schwarz, 1983. "Public Sector Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 1179, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Poirier, Dale J., 1980. "Partial observability in bivariate probit models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 209-217, February.
    14. F. L. Jones, 1983. "On Decomposing the Wage Gap: A Critical Comment on Blinder's Method," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 18(1), pages 126-130.
    15. John M. Abowd & Henry S. Farber, 1982. "Job queues and the union status of workers," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 35(3), pages 354-367, April.
    16. Timothy Smeeding, 1983. "The Size Distribution of Wage and Nonwage Compensation: Employer Cost versus Employee Value," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Labor Cost, pages 237-286 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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