Noncompetes in the U.S. Labor Force
Journal of Law and Economics 2021
69 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2015 Last revised: 3 Feb 2022
Date Written: October 2020
Using nationally representative survey data on 11,505 labor force participants, we examine the use and implementation of noncompete agreements as well as the employee outcomes associated with these provisions. Approximately 18% of labor force participants are bound by noncompetes, with 38% agreeing to at least one noncompete in the past. Noncompetes are more likely to be found in high-skill, high-paying jobs, but they are also common in low-skill, low-paying jobs and in states where noncompetes are unenforceable. Only 10% of employees negotiate over their noncompete, and about one-third of employees are presented with their noncompete only after having already accepted their job offer. Early-notice noncompetes are associated with better employee outcomes, while employees who agree to late-notice noncompetes are comparatively worse off. Regardless of noncompete timing, however, wages are relatively lower where noncompetes are easier to enforce. We discuss these findings in light of competing theories of the economic value of noncompetes.
Keywords: covenants not to compete, employment law, transparency
JEL Classification: J4, J6, K31, L41, M5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation