Risk aversion, earnings uncertainty and labour supply

This project will examine the relationship between the growth in insecure and unstable forms of employment and peoples' behaviour in relation to seeking and remaining in work. 

Traditionally, the models used by researchers to examine the impact of work incentives, or job search behaviour, consider job characteristics other than the wage irrelevant. And yet factors such as job security and the predictability of earnings may influence labour supply behaviour.

Psychological research shows that the majority of people try to avoid risk and uncertainty, and for risk-averse individuals, one side effect of employment and earnings instability may be to reduce the desirability of paid work in comparison to receiving out-of-work benefits.

This project will provide evidence on the impact of earnings instability and uncertainty on labour supply. It will use a combination of quantitative analysis of panel data and laboratory experiments to shed light on whether:

  1. Earnings uncertainty is linked with the probability of leaving unemployment in the general population, and whether this link is stronger for more risk averse individuals.
  2. A causal link between earnings uncertainty and the likelihood of taking up paid work can be established using experimental methods.
  3. Policy interventions such as benefit sanctions and/or a reduction of benefit application costs can alter the influence of earnings uncertainty on labour supply. 

The findings will be relevant for employment policy, as well as the design and implementation of out-of-work benefits. 

Project details



Dr Silvia Avram, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex

Grant amount and duration


September 2017 - January 2020