Economics at your fingertips  

Understanding the Decline in Private Sector Unionization: A Skill-based Approach

Samuel Dodini (), Michael Lovenheim () and Alexander Willén ()

No 7/2021, Discussion Paper Series in Economics from Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics

Abstract: Private-sector unionization rates have fallen precipitously in the United States over the past half century, from 25% in 1973 to only 7% in 2018. We take a skill-based approach to studying this decline, using data from the Current Population Survey combined with occupation-specific task requirements from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the Occupational Information Network. We find that for both men and women, private sector unionized jobs became higherskilled by requiring more non-routine, cognitive skills and fewer manual or routine skills. We further show that union, non-union skill differences have polarized, with unionized worker occupations becoming relatively more intensive in non-routine, cognitive skills and in manual/routine skills. These changes have been more pronounced for women than for men. Next, we decompose these skill changes into three parts: (1) changes in skills within an occupation, (2) changes in worker concentration across existing occupations, and (3) changes to the occupational mix from both entry and exit. Most of the skill changes we document are driven by the second two forces. The third part of the analysis estimates union wage premiums that account for changing skill mix. We find that accounting for skills has a small effect on the union wage premium and that the premium remains high at over 20% for both men and women. Finally, we show how this evidence can be reconciled with a model of skill-biased technological change that explicitly accounts for the institutional framework surrounding collective bargaining.

Keywords: Private-sector; unionization (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J00 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 65 pages
Date: 2021-03-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-lab
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: Track citations by RSS feed

Downloads: (external link) Full text (application/pdf)

Related works:
This item may be available elsewhere in EconPapers: Search for items with the same title.

Export reference: BibTeX RIS (EndNote, ProCite, RefMan) HTML/Text

Persistent link:

Ordering information: This working paper can be ordered from

Access Statistics for this paper

More papers in Discussion Paper Series in Economics from Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics NHH, Department of Economics, Helleveien 30, N-5045 Bergen, Norway. Contact information at EDIRC.
Bibliographic data for series maintained by Karen Reed-Larsen ().

Page updated 2023-02-06
Handle: RePEc:hhs:nhheco:2021_007