Health, disability insurance and labour force participation

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 17 August 2004

Working Paper No. 218
By Brian Bell and James Smith

Over half a million men of working age left the labour market over the course of the 1990s. In this paper this remarkable decline is explored, and the roles played by the interaction of skills, long-term sickness and the disability benefit system are highlighted. The analysis shows that the decline in participation was almost exclusively among unskilled males and that this same group reported increasing long-term illness. The generosity of the disability insurance system relative to that of the unemployment insurance appears to have encouraged such workers to exit the labour market. Strong evidence is presented of sizable labour supply responses to disability insurance benefits, which would support that hypothesis. But it seems unlikely that this 1990s’ experience will be repeated as disability benefits are now much less generous than they were at that time.

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