Labour Market Reforms and Changes in Wage Inequality in the United Kingdom and the United States

This paper compares trends in male and female hourly wage inequality in the United Kingdom and the United States between 1979 and 1998. Our main finding is that the extent and pattern of wage inequality became increasingly similar in the two countries during this period. We attribute this convergence to "US-style" reforms in the UK labour market. In particular, we argue that the much steeper decline in the unionisation in the United Kingdom explains why inequality increased faster than in the United States. For women, we conclude that the fall and subsequent recovery in the real value of the US minimum wage explains why wage inequality increased faster in the United States than in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, while the opposite happened during the 1990s. Interestingly, the introduction of the National Minimum Wage in the UK in 1999 also contributed to the convergence in labour market institutions and wage inequality between the two countries.