The Union Membership Wage-Premium Puzzle: Is There a Free Rider Problem?

Posted: 13 Apr 2004

See all articles by Alison L. Booth

Alison L. Booth

Australian National University (ANU) - Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Mark L. Bryan

University of Essex - Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)

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Abstract

Economists have long suggested that labor unions suffer a free rider problem. The argument is that, since union-set wages are available to all workers covered by unions irrespective of their union status, and union membership entails costs, workers will only join if they are coerced or are offered non-wage goods that they value above membership costs. Yet U.S. and British empirical research has found a substantial union membership wage premium among private-sector union-covered workers, implying that there is no free rider problem. The authors of this study hypothesize that these findings arise due to selectivity problems associated with identifying the union membership effect. Their analysis, which uses rich data from a new linked employer-employee survey for Britain and exploits the within-establishment variation in wages as a function of individual union membership status, demonstrates that the apparent wage premium for members is illusory. Hence, a potential free rider problem remains.

Keywords: union membership, free riding, union wage premium

JEL Classification: J51, J31

Suggested Citation

Booth, Alison L. and Bryan, Mark L., The Union Membership Wage-Premium Puzzle: Is There a Free Rider Problem?. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=529102

Alison L. Booth (Contact Author)

Australian National University (ANU) - Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
Australia
+61 2 6125 3285 (Phone)
+61 2 6125 0182 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Mark L. Bryan

University of Essex - Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
+44 1206 874683 (Phone)
+44 1206 873151 (Fax)

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