The Economics of Trade Unions : A Study of a Research Field and Its Findings book cover
1st Edition

The Economics of Trade Unions
A Study of a Research Field and Its Findings

ISBN 9780367667894
Published September 30, 2020 by Routledge
202 Pages

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Book Description

Richard B. Freeman and James L. Medoff’s now classic 1984 book What Do Unions Do? stimulated an enormous theoretical and empirical literature on the economic impact of trade unions. Trade unions continue to be a significant feature of many labor markets, particularly in developing countries, and issues of labor market regulations and labor institutions remain critically important to researchers and policy makers.

The relations between unions and management can range between cooperation and conflict; unions have powerful offsetting wage and non-wage effects that economists and other social scientists have long debated. Do the benefits of unionism exceed the costs to the economy and society writ large, or do the costs exceed the benefits? The Economics of Trade Unions offers the first comprehensive review, analysis and evaluation of the empirical literature on the microeconomic effects of trade unions using the tools of meta-regression analysis to identify and quantify the economic impact of trade unions, as well as to correct research design faults, the effects of selection bias and model misspecification.

This volume makes use of a unique dataset of hundreds of empirical studies and their reported estimates of the microeconomic impact of trade unions. Written by three authors who have been at the forefront of this research field (including the co-author of the original volume, What Do Unions Do?), this book offers an overview of a subject that is of huge importance to scholars of labor economics, industrial and employee relations, and human resource management, as well as those with an interest in meta-analysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction: why study studies of unionism?

Meta-analysis as arbiter in debates

Structure of the book

1 A bibliometric analysis of What Do Unions Do?

Freeman and Medoff’s research agenda

Approach and data



2 Research synthesis through meta-regression analysis 

The core challenge of inference

Collecting and coding meta-data

Effect size


Multiple meta-regression analysis


3 Unions and productivity: direct estimates

Unions and productivity levels

Unions and productivity in manufacturing industries

Unions and productivity in other industries


4 Unions and productivity growth

Unions and productivity growth: new data for an old issue


5 Unions and productivity: investment channels

Unions and physical capital investment

Unions and investment in intangible capital


6 Unions and productivity: employee behavior channels

Unions and employee turnover

Unions and job satisfaction

Unions and organizational commitment


7 Unions and financial performance of firms

Unions and profits


8 Summary and conclusions

Findings on union effects

Measured and unmeasured artifacts in research of union effects

Challenges for future research and policy

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Hristos Doucouliagos is Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics, and the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Australia.

Richard B. Freeman holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University. He directs the National Bureau of Economic Research/Science Engineering Workforce Projects and is Senior Research Fellow in Labour Markets at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, UK.

Patrice Laroche is Professor of Human Resource Management and Labor Relations at the ISAM-IAE Nancy (Université de Lorraine) and at the ESCP Europe Business School, France.


'...generally helpful scene-setting remarks anchor each chapter, and the authors are evenhanded throughout in their discussion of the literature.'

John T. Addison, Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, and Department of Economics and Finance, Durham University Business School (UK), and Research Fellow, IZA Bonn