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Constraint and opportunity: identifying voluntary non-employment

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  • Burchardt, Tania
  • Le Grand, Julian

Abstract

This paper is an attempt to assess the extent to which the behaviour of an individual is the result of the constraints that he or she faces – factors beyond individual control - or the result of the exercise of his or her preferences. The study concentrates on participation or non-participation in employment, with non-participation defined broadly to include fulltime education, caring or early retirement, as well as unemployment. Following a discussion of potential methodological difficulties, data from the British Household Panel Study are used to construct models of the probability of being in employment, controlling for various constraints. Starting from the position that all non-employment is voluntary, possible constraints are introduced in layers corresponding to the degree to which they are regarded as beyond individual control. The layered approach allows for the fact that opinions vary as to what factors it is appropriate to regard as constraints. Predicted probabilities of being in employment are then compared to each individual’s actual state. If the model predicts that he or she has a high probability of being in work, and in fact he or she is not, then there is a prima facie case that she or he is voluntarily out of work. However, since there may be unobserved constraints, the outcome is cross-checked by starting from the opposite position, namely that all non-employment is involuntary, then gradually subtracting those for whom there is evidence of having chosen to be out of work. Only those who are found not to face significant constraints and who state that they do not want work can with confidence be asserted to be voluntarily non-employed. The results suggest that after taking into account as many constraints as possible, one-tenth of the non-employment in our sample is unambiguously voluntary, with a further one-tenth being indeterminate.

Suggested Citation

  • Burchardt, Tania & Le Grand, Julian, 2002. "Constraint and opportunity: identifying voluntary non-employment," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 4650, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:4650
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    File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/4650/
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nolan, Brian & Whelan, Christopher T., 1996. "Resources, Deprivation, and Poverty," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198287858.
    2. Sen, Amartya, 1995. "Inequality Reexamined," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198289289.
    3. Haveman, Robert & Bershadker, Andrew, 1998. "Self-Reliance as a Poverty Criterion: Trends in Earnings-Capacity Poverty, 1975-1992," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 342-347, May.
    4. Sen, Amartya, 1984. "The Living Standard," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 36(0), pages 74-90, Supplemen.
    5. Hahn, F H, 1987. "On Involuntary Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(388a), pages 1-16, Supplemen.
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    Cited by:

    1. Greco, Giulia & Skordis-Worrall, Jolene & Mkandawire, Bryan & Mills, Anne, 2015. "What is a good life? Selecting capabilities to assess women's quality of life in rural Malawi," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 69-78.
    2. Wiebke Kuklys & Ingrid Robeyns, 2004. "Sens's Capability Approach to Welfare Economics," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-03, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
    3. Leßmann, Ortrud & Masson, Torsten, 2015. "Sustainable consumption in capability perspective: Operationalization and empirical illustration," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 64-72.
    4. Wiebke Kuklys, 2004. "A Monetary Approach to Capability Measurement of the Disabled - Evidence from the UK," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-08, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
    5. Kuklys, W. & Robeyns, I., 2004. "Sen’s Capability Approach to Welfare Economics," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0415, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    6. Wiebke Kuklys, 2004. "Measuring Standard of Living in the UK - An Application of Sen's Functioning Approach Using Structural Equation Models," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-11, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    employment; opportunity; capability; voluntary;

    JEL classification:

    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General
    • I39 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Other
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search

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