Labour Market Rigidities, Trade and Unemployment

Elhanan Helpman*, Oleg Itskhoki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We study a two-country, two-sector model of international trade in which one sector produces homogeneous products and the other produces differentiated products. Both sectors are subjected to search and matching frictions in the labour market and wage bargaining. As a result, some of the workers searching for jobs end up being unemployed. Countries are similar except for frictions in their labour markets, such as efficiency of matching and costs of posting vacancies, which can vary across the sectors. The differentiated-product industry has firm heterogeneity and monopolistic competition. We study the interaction of labour market rigidities and trade impediments in shaping welfare, trade flows, productivity, and unemployment. We show that both countries gain from trade. A country with relatively lower frictions in the differentiated-product industry exports differentiated products on net. A country benefits from lowering frictions in its differentiated sector's labour market, but this harms the country's trade partner. Alternatively, a simultaneous, proportional lowering of labour market frictions in the differentiated sectors of both countries benefits both of them. The opening to trade raises a country's rate of unemployment if its relative labour market frictions in the differentiated sector are low, and it reduces the rate of unemployment if its relative labour market frictions in the differentiated sector are high. Cross-country differences in rates of unemployment exhibit rich patterns. In particular, lower labour market frictions do not ensure lower unemployment, and unemployment and welfare can both rise in response to falling labour market frictions and falling trade costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1100-1137
Number of pages38
JournalReview of Economic Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


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