Area #1

Unemployment Scarring and Labour Market Inequality

1. Unemployment Scarring and the Role of Public Policy

Does unemployment breed unemployment? Can unemployment benefit institutions mitigate the negative effects of unemployment? 

Over the past 15 years, questions about unemployment scarring, state dependence and the relationship with public policy have defined Irma’s research. Drawing on longitudinal household panel data spanning 1980-2008 in the Netherlands, her book published in 2008, blended sociological and microeconomic theories to investigate the economic and behavioural consequences of unemployment and the buffering role of unemployment benefit institutions for unemployed worker's labour market outcomes. Her empirical strategy was innovative, because it traced individuals’ labour market outcomes over longer periods (1980–2008) allowing to differentiate between groups of unemployed who were affected by a range of policy reforms in the Netherlands during an 18-year period. Her studies challenged standard job search theories by showing that job search behaviour and incentives to work are not uniform but interact with gender, age, social context, and the type of (repetitive) policy interventions. Probably most intriguing from Irma's PhD studies was the finding that unemployed workers were more negatively impacted by policy reforms that changed policy attributes than magnitudes.

Since her PhD studies, Irma's work has been characterized by an integrative approach of sociological and economic theories, the use of longitudinal data, and rigorous panel data analyses. Her work on the effectiveness of a series of reforms in the level and duration of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for individual–level wage and labour market outcomes has been published in top journal outlets including Social Forces, 2011 and the European Sociological Review, 2012. Findings from these studies showed that a more optimal UI benefit reform is not a one–size–fits–all policy but need to consider the diversity of their recipients, particularly in relation to family status, labour market history, and eligibility.

In recent years, Irma has continued to contribute to research on unemployment scarring. Her co-authored article (with H. Ganzeboom) published at Social Science Research in 2015, for example, provided new evidence about the heterogeneity in the effects of unemployment scarring. It showed that negative income effects among women were mainly driven by human capital depreciation, while for men they were mainly the result of stigma attached to unemployment. Related with unemployment scarring, her co-authored work (with A. Manzoni) published at Schmöllers Jahrbuch in 2011 investigated the implications of unemployment on career instability. The study took advantage of the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) which allowed for the examinatin of entire employment careers rather than single transitions in and out of employment. Findings from this study provided novel empirical evidence on cumulative disadvantage processes following spells of unemployment.

2. Sources of Unemployment Scarring and Labour Market Inequality


In researching unemployment scarring, Irma has also investigated sources that lead to unemployment, such as the role of precarious work and non-standard employment contracts. In several publications in premium journal outlets, she has empirically demonstrated how precarious employment can contribute to employment instability and unemployment, which in turn can further generate labour market inequalities that vary by workers’ gender, age, and ethnicity.


Related to labour market inequality, co-authored work (with R. Dekker) published at the British Journal of Industrial Relations in 2015 investigated whether one’s previous fixed–term employment influenced both the likelihood and the duration of a subsequent unemployment spell. Analyses based on labour market histories among a sample of prime-age working Dutch men and women, revealed that: 1) Dutch workers previously employed in fixed–term contracts experienced higher risks of recurring unemployment, and that 2) subsequent unemployment spells were not shorter for those previously employed in fixed term contracts than those previously in regular contracts. Findings from this study, suggested that at least in the Netherlands, fixed–term contracts did not serve as pathways to better paying jobs, but instead created a pool of precarious and dead-end jobs.


Again, with a focus on non-standard employment, co-authored work with M. Wooden published at Human Relations in 2017 examined how casual employment patterns in the past were associated with subsequent wage outcomes in the future. Attention was paid to wage trajectories and how these evolved over individual careers contingent upon worker’s gender and age. Sociological scholarship around the notion of the ‘ideal worker’ was used to help understand wage differentials across the different groups. Results from this study showed that, among the different age and gender groups, prime-age working men in casual employment over the past five years were most severely penalized in their subsequent wage trajectories.


Related to unemployment and labour market inequalities, co-authored work (with J. Munoz-Comet) at the European Sociological Review in 2016 (IF 2.941, A, top 7% in Sociology journals according to 2017 Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports) investigated whether job loss differentials between immigrant and native workers varied across changing economic periods in Spain. Sophisticated decomposition models revealed that structural factors, including occupational level and the type of employment contracts, accounted for most job loss differentials between immigrants and natives. However, disproportionate risks of job loss among immigrant workers were found particularly during economic downturns, suggesting that possible discriminatory practices could have been activated during economic fluctuations.

3. Other Research on Labour Market Inequalities

Irma's one of the most cited articles was joint work with colleagues from the U.S. and Sweden published at Social Politics in 2009 (IF 1.447, B, #11 out of 40 journals in Women’s Studies). The study investigated whether gender wage inequality varied by educational level in the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. Findings showed that, unlike in the U.S., the gender wage gap in Sweden and the Netherlands was greatest for the highly educated, because of higher returns to education for men than for women in these nations. This study was one of the most cited articles in the journal of Social Politics in 2010, 2011, 2012.

Irma’s work has also interdisciplinary breadth, as indicated by her co-authored work published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, 2014 (IF 3.154, A*, top 1% in Criminology journals according to 2014 Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports). The article investigated whether employment reduced offending rates in juvenile sex offenders, using Dutch longitudinal data and a series of hybrid random effects models. The study showed that employment was associated with a decrease in offending.

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