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Atlanta Fed Working Papers


Asymmetric Labor Force Participation Decisions over the Business Cycle: Evidence from U.S. Microdata

Julie L. Hotchkiss and John C. Robertson
Working Paper 2006-8
July 2006

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The purpose of this paper is to explore the microfoundations of the observed asymmetric movement in aggregate unemployment rates. Using U.S. data, we find that individual labor force participation responds asymmetrically to changes in local labor market conditions, consistent with the pattern of movements in the aggregate unemployment rate. Differences in the asymmetry and sensitivity of labor force participation decisions are found across gender, age, and education groups, and these differences are used to anticipate changes in the aggregate movements as population characteristics change over time.

JEL classification: J21, J22, E24, E32

Key words: asymmetric labor force participation decision, unemployment rate, business cycle, gender, education, age


The authors thank M. Laurel Graefe and Menbere Shiferaw for valuable research assistance. The views expressed here are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors’ responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to Julie L. Hotchkiss, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30039-4470, 404-498-8198, julie.l.hotchkiss@atl.frb.org, or John C. Robertson, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30039-4470, 404-498-8782, john.c.robertson@atl.frb.org.

For further information, contact the Public Affairs Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30309-4470, 404-498-8020.