Debt and Wages: The Role of Labor Regulation

49 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2022 Last revised: 21 Feb 2023

See all articles by Thomas David

Thomas David

ESCP Business School

Christophe Moussu

ESCP Business School

Date Written: February 20, 2022


In this paper, we investigate how labor regulation interacts with financial leverage to explain the level of compensation firms pay to their employees. Firm leverage increases the risk of layoffs of employees and decreases their bargaining power, implying opposite effects on their pay level. Employment protection laws, however, protect employees from the risk of displacement and increase their bargaining power, thus moderating the effect of leverage on employees’ compensation. Testing this hypothesis on a large sample of OECD firms over the 1990-2018 period, we document that the correlation between leverage and employee pay is consistently lower in countries with tighter labor laws. Notably, our results hold in a stacked difference-in-difference (stacked DiD) setting exploiting major labor market reforms worldwide. Additional tests show that our results are consistent with both the risk premium and pressure effects associated with leverage, and cannot be explained by financially constrained firms cutting their labor costs.

Keywords: Wages, Labor Market, Labor Laws, Capital Structure, Adjustment Costs, Bargaining, Risk Premium

JEL Classification: G30, G32, J30

Suggested Citation

David, Thomas and Moussu, Christophe, Debt and Wages: The Role of Labor Regulation (February 20, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas David (Contact Author)

ESCP Business School ( email )

79 avenue de la République

Christophe Moussu

ESCP Business School ( email )

79 Avenue de la République
Paris, 75011

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