Student Attitudes on Labor Issues: A U.S./Canada Comparison

Published September 30th, 2013 -  - 09.30.132

There’s an interesting new study, from Wilma Liebman and David Doorey, of student attitudes about labor issues.  The study is based on the authors’ poll of undergraduates in Canada and the United States.  The sample sizes are, admittedly, small.  But the results are intriguing.  In my view, the most interesting outcomes were produced by a question on unions.  From the survey:

2. Which statement best describes your attitude towards unions:

a. “Unions serve an important role in society and the economy, and they should be encouraged”

Canada: 75% USA: 51%

b. “Unions prevent companies from being competitive and contribute little to the

betterment of society and, therefore, should not be encouraged.”

Canada: 4% USA: 21%

c. “Unions once served an important function, but they are no longer necessary

because employers are now fairer and there are better legal protections for


Canada: 22% USA: 28%

On his blog, Doorey summarizes other results this way:

Students in both classes were very supportive of minimum wage legislation.  A larger segment of American students (13% versus 2%), opposed minimum wage legislation as a harmful interference in the free operation of labor markets.

. . . .

Interestingly, there was a noticeable variance of opinion on income inequality. Close to a third (29%) of American students responded that income inequality is not a cause of concern, and simply reflects the proper functioning of free markets, which reward hard work and skill. Only 11% of Canadian students believed that.

A third of the Canadian students responded that income inequality is a cause for concern,and that governments should promote more collective bargaining to enable workers to bargain higher wages. Only 15% of Americans chose this option. An almost identical amount of students in both countries (57% in the US, 56% in Canada) responded that income inequality is a cause of concern, and that governments should be encouraging a broader distribution of wealth through means other than promoting unionization.

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