Working Paper Number
Generous unemployment benefits lie at the heart of the conventional explanation for persistent high unemployment. The effects of benefit generosity are more ambiguous in a broader behavioral framework in which workers get substantial disutility from unemployment controlling for income, and know that unemployment has scarring effects in the future. The micro evidence suggests modest effects of changes in generosity, but there are reasons to doubt that the impacts on national unemployment rates are consequential. The strongest evidence for the orthodox prediction comes from cross-country regressions on the OECD’s gross replacement rate (GRR), but we find little support in the pattern of annual changes in the GRR and the unemployment rate for OECD countries over the last three decades. We take advantage of newly released and much improved net replacement rate indicators from the OECD, which show little correlation with either the GRRs or with unemployment and employment rates. The evidence does not offer compelling support for the view that benefit generosity is at the root of high European unemployment.