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Taxes and employment - is there a Scandinavia puzzle ?


  • Torben M. Andersen


Recent debates have suggested that taxation is very detrimental to labour force participation and employment. However, some countries - notably the Scandinavian - stand out as contradictions to this view since they have managed to sustain high labour force participation despite high tax rates and a generous social safety net.This paper considers the experience of European countries and Scandinavia compared to the US and asks whether Scandinavian countries are outliers. First, it is argued that the simple "tax argument" does not capture the European experience since labour force participation for some age groups is at the same or a higher level than the US. Second, it is argued that even though the social safety net is generous in Scandinavian countries, it is also very employment conditional. It is shown that these conditionalities can make high labour force participation consistent with a high marginal effective taxation of labour, and that it on the margin lowers the marginal costs of public funds. The design of the social safety net is therefore important in accounting for the Scandinavian experience.

Suggested Citation

  • Torben M. Andersen, 2009. "Taxes and employment - is there a Scandinavia puzzle ?," European Economy - Economic Papers 2008 - 2015 359, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
  • Handle: RePEc:euf:ecopap:0359

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Assar Lindbeck & Sten Nyberg & Jörgen W. Weibull, 1999. "Social Norms and Economic Incentives in the Welfare State," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 1-35.
    2. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 31-52, August.
    3. Alberto F. Alesina & Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2006. "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2005, Volume 20, pages 1-100 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Assar Lindbeck & Sten Nyberg & Jörgen W. Weibull, 2003. "Social Norms and Welfare State Dynamics," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(2-3), pages 533-542, 04/05.
    5. Andersen, Torben M. & Holmström, Bengt & Honkapohja, Seppo & Korkman, Sixten & Söderström Hans Tson, & Vartiainen, Juhana, . "The Nordic Model. Embracing globalization and sharing risks," ETLA B, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, number 232.
    6. Michiel Evers & Ruud de Mooij & Daniel van Vuuren, 2005. "What explains the variation in estimates of labour supply elasticities?," CPB Discussion Paper 51, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    7. Nichols, Albert L & Zeckhauser, Richard J, 1982. "Targeting Transfers through Restrictions on Recipients," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(2), pages 372-377, May.
    8. Pedersen, Peder J. & Smith, Nina, 2001. "Unemployment Traps: Do Financial Disincentives Matter?," IZA Discussion Papers 274, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Richard Rogerson, 2007. "Taxation and market work: is Scandinavia an outlier?," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 32(1), pages 59-85, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Erling Holmøy, 2014. "The equilibrium relationship between public and total employment. The importance of endogenous non-labour income," Discussion Papers 779, Statistics Norway, Research Department.

    More about this item


    Taxes and employment; is there a Scandinavia puzzle? taxation of labour; employment; labour force participation; social safety net; Andersen;

    JEL classification:

    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J60 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - General


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