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Constraint and Opportunity: Identifying Voluntary Non-Employment
Tania Burchardt and Julian Le Grand
April 2002
Paper No' CASE 055:
Full Paper (pdf)

Tags: employment; opportunity; capability; voluntary

This paper assesses the extent to which the behaviour of an individual is the result of the constraints that he or she faces, or the result of his or her preferences. It concentrates on participation or non-participation in employment. Following a discussion of potential methodological difficulties, data from the British Household Panel Study are used to construct models of the probability of being in employment. Starting from the position that all non-employment is voluntary, possible constraints are introduced in layers corresponding to the degree to which they are regarded as beyond individual control. Since there may be unobserved constraints, the outcome is cross-checked by starting from the opposite position, namely that all non-employment is involuntary, then subtracting those for whom there is evidence of having chosen to be out of work. The results suggest that after taking into account as many constraints as possible, one-tenth of the non-employment is our sample is unambiguously voluntary, with a further one-tenth being indeterminate.