NBER Working Paper No. 27720
Issued in August 2020
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Using data from the United States and Europe on nearly two million respondents we show the partial correlation between union membership and employee job satisfaction is positive and statistically significant. This runs counter to findings in the seminal work of Freeman (1978) and Borjas (1979) in the 1970s and most empirical studies since. With data for the United States we show the association between union membership and job satisfaction switched from negative to positive in the 2000s. Cohorts with positive union effects over time come to dominate those with negative effects. The negative association between membership and job satisfaction is apparent in cohorts born in the 1940s and 1950s but turns positive for those born between the 1960s and 1990s. Analyses for Europe since the 2000s confirm the positive association between union membership and worker wellbeing is apparent elsewhere. We also find evidence in the United Kingdom from panel estimation of a positive relation between union membership and job satisfaction. We find positive union associations with other aspects of worker wellbeing including life satisfaction and happiness, several macro variables and various measures of trust. Union members are also less likely to be stressed, worried, depressed, sad or lonely. The findings have important implications for our understanding of trade unionism.