NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

A Biological Model of Unions

Michael Kremer, Benjamin A. Olken

NBER Working Paper No. 8257
Issued in April 2001
NBER Program(s):   EFG   LS

This paper applies principles from evolutionary biology to the study of unions. We show that unions which maximize the present discounted wages of current members will be displaced in evolutionary competition by unions with more moderate wage policies that allow their firms to live longer. This suggests that unions with constitutional incumbency advantages that allow leaders to moderate members' wage demands may have a selective advantage. The model also suggests that industries with high turnover of firms will have low unionization rates, and that there may be one equilibrium with high unionization and long-lived firms and another with low unionization and short-lived firms. These predictions seem broadly consistent with the data.

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Published: Olken, Benjamin A. and Michael Kremer. “A Biological Model of Unions." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1, 2 (April 2009): 150-175.

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