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Unionization and Wage Inequality: A Comparative Study of the U.S, the U.K., and Canada

  • David Card
  • Thomas Lemieux
  • W. Craig Riddell

This paper presents a comparative analysis of the link between unionization and wage inequality in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. Our main motivation is to see whether unionization can account for differences and trends in wage inequality in industrialized countries. We focus on the U.S., the U.K., and Canada because the institutional arrangements governing unionization and collective bargaining are relatively similar in these three countries. The three countries also share large non-union sectors that can be used as a comparison group for the union sector. Using comparable micro data for the last two decades, we find that unions have remarkably similar qualitative impacts in all three countries. In particular, unions tend to systematically reduce wage inequality among men, but have little impact on wage inequality for women. We conclude that unionization helps explain a sizable share of cross-country differences in male wage inequality among the three countries. We also conclude that de-unionization explains a substantial part of the growth in male wage inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. since the early 1980s.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9473.

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Date of creation: Feb 2003
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Publication status: published as Card, David, Thomas Lemieux and W. Craig Riddell. “Unions and Wage Inequality.” Journal of Labor Research 25 (Fall 2004).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9473
Note: LS
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  1. Richard B. Freeman, 1980. "Unionism and the dispersion of wages," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 34(1), pages 3-23, October.
  2. Budd, J.W. & Na, I.G., 1994. "The Union Membership Wage Premium for Employees Covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements," Papers 94-09, Minnesota - Industrial Relations Center.
  3. Barry T. Hirsch & Edward J. Schumacher, . "Unions, Wages, and Skills," Working Papers 9606, East Carolina University, Department of Economics.
  4. Peter Kuhn, . "Canada and the "OECD Hypothesis": Does Labour Market Inflexibility Explain Canada's High Level of Unemployment?," Canadian International Labour Network Working Papers 10, McMaster University.
  5. Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "How Much Has De-Unionisation Contributed to the Rise in Male Earnings Inequality?," NBER Working Papers 3826, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Amanda Gosling & Thomas Lemieux, 2001. "Labour Market Reforms and Changes in Wage Inequality in the United Kingdom and the United States," NBER Working Papers 8413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. David Card & Thomas Lemieux & W. Craig Riddell, 2004. "Unions and Wage Inequality," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 25(4), pages 519-562, October.
  8. Hirsch, Barry & Schumacher, Edward J., 2003. "Match Bias in Wage Gap Estimates Due to Earnings Imputation," IZA Discussion Papers 783, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Pencavel, John, 2003. "The Surprising Retreat of Union Britain," IZA Discussion Papers 818, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Joshua Angrist & Alan Krueger, 1998. "Empirical Strategies in Labor Economics," Working Papers 780, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  11. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
  12. Card, David & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Wage dispersion, returns to skill, and black-white wage differentials," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 319-361, October.
  13. Barry T. Hirsch & David A. MacPherson, 2003. "Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey: Note," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(2), pages 349-354, January.
  14. Richard B. Freeman, 1998. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Chapters, in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 265-296 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. David Card & Richard B. Freeman, 1993. "Small Differences That Matter: Labor Markets and Income Maintenance in Canada and the United States," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number card93-1, November.
  16. Kevin M. Murphy & W. Craig Riddell & Paul M. Romer, 1998. "Wages, Skills, and Technology in the United States and Canada," NBER Working Papers 6638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Lemieux, Thomas, 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Unions on Wage Inequality in a Panel Data Model with Comparative Advantage and Nonrandom Selection," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 261-91, April.
  18. Machin, Stephen, 1997. "The decline of labour market institutions and the rise in wage inequality in Britain," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(3-5), pages 647-657, April.
  19. Card, David, 1996. "The Effect of Unions on the Structure of Wages: A Longitudinal Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 957-79, July.
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