Unemployment Insurance and Job Search Behavior


How does unemployment insurance (UI) affect unemployed workers’ search behavior? Search models predict that until benefit exhaustion, UI depresses job search effort and increases reservation wages. Over an unemployment spell, search effort should increase up to benefit exhaustion and stay high thereafter. Meanwhile, reservation wages should decrease up to benefit exhaustion and stay low thereafter. To test these predictions, we link administrative registers to data on job search behavior from a major online job search platform in France. We follow over 400,000 workers, as long as they remain unemployed. We analyze the changes in search behavior around benefits exhaustion and take two steps to isolate the individual response to unemployment benefits. First, our longitudinal data allows us to correct for changes in sample composition over the spell. Second, we exploit data on workers eligible for 12–24 months of UI as well as workers ineligible for UI, to control for behavior changes over the unemployment spell that are independent of UI. Our results confirm the predictions of search models. We find that search effort (the number of job applications) increases by at least 50% during the year preceding benefits exhaustion and remains high thereafter. The target monthly wage decreases by at least 2.4% during the year preceding benefits exhaustion and remains low thereafter. In addition, we provide evidence for duration dependence: workers decrease the wage they target by 1.5% over each year of unemployment, irrespective of their UI status.

The Quarterly Journal of Economics