School of Economics

Make Yourselves Scarce: The Effect of Demographic Change on the Relative Wages and Employment Rates of Experienced Workers

30 March 2019

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by Prof Michael J. Böhm, University of Bonn and Dr Christian Siegel, University of Kent. Discussion paper KDPE 1902, March 2019.

Non-technical summary:

Many developed economies have experienced a rapid aging of their workforces and are projected to age further. This demographic change has substantial effects on the labor market by changing relative supplies of older and younger (or experienced and inexperienced) workers, and thereby on their relative wages as argued by previous literature. In this paper we establish that the overall effects of demographic change on the labor market are much more far reaching as also employment rates are impacted.

From an empirical point of view, it is quite difficult to study the effects of demographic change in aggregate data, as important other variables (including technology, policy, and society) change at the same time. We therefore devise a novel identification strategy in this context, based on the differential aging of local labor markets. In particular, we construct an instrumental variable for local experience, which exploits the largely predetermined age structure and which allows us to estimate the causal effects of experience supply.

Specifically, we study both the effect of demographic change on relative wages as well as on relative employment rates of experienced workers. We find that increased experience supply, induced by the ageing of the workforce, not only reduces experienced workers' relative wages, but also the relative fraction of experienced individuals in employment compared to inexperienced individuals, in line with the predictions of our theoretical model. We further investigate this novel effect in more detail and find that it is fully driven by experienced workers' labor force participation, rather than unemployment. We also demonstrate that a substantial part of the effect is through claiming social security income.

These results are potentially very important for policy design, especially of old-age benefits systems, as they highlight that (experienced) workers' participation rates should not be viewed as constants nor as following secular trends alone. Instead our findings imply that a more abundant group has a lower employment rate, which raises flags that the overall pressure from the aging of the baby boom cohort on social security systems might be larger than what projections based on exogenous participation rates would predict. Another implication of our finding is that aging affects labor market inequality across generations, with larger cohorts facing relatively lower employment and wage rates than smaller cohorts, ceteris paribus. Nonetheless, our results also suggest that demand shifts at the aggregate level over the last decades have been biased in favor of experience.

This prevented the wage return to experience from falling, despite the overall pronounced increase in experience supply.

You can download the complete paper here.


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