Labor Market Status and Transitions During the Pre-Retirement Years: Learning from International Differences

Published: 2007


Many western industrialized countries face strong budgetary pressures due to the aging of the baby boom generations and the general trends toward earlier ages of retirement. The commonality of these problems has the advantage of offering an empirical laboratory for the testing of programmatic incentives on labor force participation and retirement decisions that would not be possible in a single country where programs typically only change very slowly. One can gauge the effect of policies by analyzing the differences in the prevalence of unemployment, early retirement or work disability across countries. We use the American PSID and the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) to explain differences in prevalence and dynamics of self-reported work disability and labor force status. To that end we specify a two-equations dynamic panel data model describing the dynamics of labor force status and self-reported work disability. We find that transitions between work and non-work are more frequent in the US than in the 13 European countries we analyze. For self-reported work disability we don’t observe similar differences in transition rates between disability states, although overall Americans are less likely to report work disabilities. The difference in outflow out of work between the US and Europe appears to be smaller than the difference in inflow into work. When we apply the US parameters of the flow from non-work to work , the net result is that Europeans tend to work more.

Key Findings

    • American workers tend to transition out of and into the labor force at higher rates than many European workers.
    • Although there are only modest differences between American and European workers in rates of leaving work, there are higher levels of return to work among Americans.
    • If Europeans were under the same policy conditions as Americans, their labor force participation would be higher.