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The Union Membership Wage Premium Puzzle: Is There A Free-Rider Problem?

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  • Booth, Alison L
  • Bryan, Mark L

Abstract

Economists have, at least since Olson (1965), suggested that there is a free rider problem associated with labour union membership. The reason is that union-set wages are available to all workers covered by unions irrespective of whether or not they are union members, and - given that there are costs to membership – workers will only join if they are coerced or offered incentive excludable goods. Yet empirical research for both the US and for Great Britain has shown that there is a substantial union membership wage premium amongst private sector union-covered workers. An implication is that the free rider hypothesis is therefore irrelevant, since these studies reveal significant economic gains in the form of higher wages for union members. Using rich data from a new linked employer-employee survey for Britain, we show that this is not the case. While estimates assuming exogenous membership do indeed suggest there is a union membership wage premium of a similar order of magnitude to that found in other studies, we demonstrate that – with appropriate instruments based on theory and with additional controls – this wage premium vanishes.

Suggested Citation

  • Booth, Alison L & Bryan, Mark L, 2001. "The Union Membership Wage Premium Puzzle: Is There A Free-Rider Problem?," CEPR Discussion Papers 2879, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2879
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Budd, John W & Na, In-Gang, 2000. "The Union Membership Wage Premium for Employees Covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(4), pages 783-807, October.
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    4. John Ermisch & Marco Francesconi, 2000. "Educational Choice, Families, and Young People's Earnings," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(1), pages 143-176.
    5. Blakemore, Arthur E & Hunt, Janet C & Kiker, B F, 1986. "Collective Bargaining and Union Membership Effects on the Wages of Male Youths," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(2), pages 193-211, April.
    6. Booth, Alison L & Chatterji, Monojit, 1995. "Union Membership and Wage Bargaining When Membership is Not Compulsory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(429), pages 345-360, March.
    7. Metcalf, David & Hansen, Kirstine & Charlwood, Andy, 2000. "Unions and the sword of justice: unions and pay systems, pay inequality, pay discrimination and low pay," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20195, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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    Cited by:

    1. Koevoets, Wim, 2007. "Union wage premiums in Great Britain: Coverage or membership?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 53-71, January.
    2. Walsh, Frank & Strobl, Eric, 2009. "Recent Trends in Trade Union Membership in Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 40(1), pages 117-138.
    3. Mathieu Bunel & Gilles Raveaud, 2012. "Union Membership does not pay: Evidence from recent French Micro Data," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201232, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    4. Lixin Cai & C. Jeffrey Waddoups, 2011. "Union Wage Effects in Australia: Evidence from Panel Data," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 49(Supplemen), pages 279-305, July.
    5. Goerke, Laszlo & Pannenberg, Markus, 2011. "Trade union membership and dismissals," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 810-821.
    6. David Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2004. "The Union Wage Premium in the US and the UK," CEP Discussion Papers dp0612, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    7. Veliziotis, Michail, 2010. "Unionization and sickness absence from work in the UK," ISER Working Paper Series 2010-15, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    8. Alex Bryson & Lorenzo Cappellari & Claudio Lucifora, 2010. "Why So Unhappy? The Effects of Unionization on Job Satisfaction," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(3), pages 357-380, June.
    9. Gesine Stephan & Knut Gerlach, 2005. "Wage settlements and wage setting: results from a multi-level model," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(20), pages 2297-2306.
    10. John W. Budd & Karen Mumford, 2004. "Trade Unions and Family-Friendly Policies in Britain," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 57(2), pages 204-222, January.
    11. Manquilef-Bächler, Alejandra A. & Arulampalam, Wiji & Smith, Jennifer C., 2009. "Differences in Decline: Quantile Regression Analysis of Union Wage Differentials in the United Kingdom, 1991-2003," IZA Discussion Papers 4138, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. C Green & J S Heywood, 2010. "Unions, Dissatisfied Workers and Sorting," Working Papers 615292, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    13. Stephan, Gesine & Gerlach, Knut, 2004. "Collective contracts, wages and wage dispersion in a multi-level model," IAB Discussion Paper 200406, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].
    14. Hynninen, Sanna-Mari, 2009. "Is there a wage curve for the highly educated?," ISER Working Paper Series 2009-17, Institute for Social and Economic Research.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    employer-employee data; member/non-member covered wage premium;

    JEL classification:

    • J51 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Trade Unions: Objectives, Structure, and Effects

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