April 2020

IZA DP No. 13189: Evidence on Job Search Models from a Survey of Unemployed Workers in Germany

Accepted at Quarterly Journal of Economics

The job finding rate of Unemployment Insurance (UI) recipients declines in the initial months of unemployment and then exhibits a spike at the benefit exhaustion point. A range of theoretical explanations have been proposed, but those are hard to disentangle using data on job finding alone. To better understand the underlying mechanisms, we conducted a large text-message-based survey of unemployed workers in Germany. We surveyed 6,800 UI recipients twice a week for 4 months about their job search effort. The panel structure allows us to observe how search effort evolves within individual over the unemployment spell. We provide three key facts: 1) search effort is flat early on in the UI spell, 2) search effort exhibits an increase up to UI exhaustion and a decrease thereafter, 3) UI recipients do not appear to time job start dates to coincide with the UI exhaustion point. A model of reference-dependent job search can explain these facts well, while a standard search model with unobserved heterogeneity struggles to explain the second fact. The third fact also leaves little room for a model of storable offers to explain the spike.