Union Membership for Women Comparable to College Degree

December 5, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Automotive | Pharma & Healthcare | Women

US women who belong to labor unions have a large overall wage and benefit advantage over their non-unionized peers and have a much higher likelihood of having health insurance and a pension plan, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

The report, “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” finds that – after regression adjustments for other differences in union vs. non-union workers – unionization raises the pay of women workers by almost $2.00 per hour. On average, unionized women workers – who make up 45% of the unionized? workforce – earn 11.2% more than their non-union peers.


The study also finds that for the average woman, joining a union has a much larger effect on her probability of having health insurance (a 19 percentage-point increase) than finishing a four-year college degree would (an 8.4 percentage-point increase, compared with a woman with similar characteristics who has only a high-school diploma).

Similarly, unionization raises the probability of a woman having an employee-sponsored pension by 25 percentage points, compared with only a 13.1 percent increase for completing a four-year college degree (relative to a high school degree).

For the average woman, a four-year college degree boosts wages by 52.6%, relative to a woman with similar characteristics who has only a high school degree. At 11.2%, the comparably estimated union wage premium? is more than 20% of the full four-year college effect.

Though specific individuals who attend college may be better-off overall than unionized women, the overall picture of women in America shows that those who are in unions come out on top, the study found.

“For women, joining a union makes as much sense as going to college,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist at CEPR and the author of the study. “All else equal, joining a union raises a woman’s wage as much as a full-year of college, and a union raises the chances that a woman has health insurance by more than earning a four-year college degree.”

Unionization especially benefited women workers in so called “low-wage” jobs. Among women workers in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members earned 14% more than non-unionized workers. In the same low-wage occupations, unionized women were 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension plan than their non-union counterparts.

About the research: The report analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).


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