Reconciling workless measures at the individual and household level: theory and evidence from the United States, Britain, Germany, Spain and Australia
Individual and household based aggregate measures of worklessness can, and do, offer conflicting signals about labour market performance. We outline a means of quantifying the extent of any disparity, (polarisation), in the signals stemming from individual and household-based measures of worklessness and apply this index to data from 5 countries over 25 years. Built around a comparison of the actual household workless rate with that which would occur if employment were randomly distributed over household occupants, we show that in all the countries we examine, there has been a growing disparity between the individual and household based workless measures. The polarisation count can be decomposed to identify which household groups are exposed to workless concentrations and can also be used to test which individual characteristics account for any excess worklessness among these household groups. We show that the incidence and magnitude of polarisation varies widely across countries, but that in all countries polarisation has increased. For each country most of the discrepancies between the individual and household workless counts stem from within-household factors, rather than from changing household composition.
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