Labour markets, human capital and inequality

Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth 2008


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Going for Growth is an OECD flagship publication alongside the OECD Economic Outlook and OECD Economic Surveys. First published in 2005, this annual periodical provides an overview of structural policy developments in OECD countries from a comparative perspective. Based on a broad set of indicators of structural policies and performance, this edition takes stock of recent progress in implementing policy reforms to improve labour productivity and utilisation that were identified as priorities in the 2007 edition. The set of internationally comparable indicators provided here enables countries to assess their economic performance and structural policies in a broad range of areas.

 Press conference of 4 March 2008

Handout for journalists by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General and Jørgen Elmeskov, OECD Acting Chief Economist

Editorial  by Jørgen Elmeskov, Acting Head of the Economics Department

Part I:  Progress in Responding to the 2007 Policy Priorities

Chapter 1. Responding to the Going for Growth 2007 Policy Priorities: An Overview of Progress
This chapter provides an overview of the progress achieved by OECD countries over the past year in taking measures consistent with the policy priorities identified in the 2007 edition. Some action has been taken in almost two-thirds of the policy priorities previously identified. Important steps were taken to reform competition restraining regulations in product markets, education and labour taxation in most countries where these were seen as priorities. However, less progress has been made in responding to priorities for specific labour market policies.

Chapter 2. Country notes
This chapter contains information about the progress in implementing reforms in line with the 2007 priorities (2007 country notes) for individual OECD member countries and for the European Union. 





Czech Republic


European Union














New Zealand





Slovak Republic





United Kingdom

United States

Chapter 3. Explaining differences in hours worked across OECD Countries

Working hours vary widely across OECD countries, and these differences account for a sizeable fraction of the gap in GDP-per-capita levels between Europe and the United States. Views differ widely about the respective roles of taxes, working-time and other regulations, and preferences in influencing working hours. This chapter examines the impact of various policy levers in explaining differences in hours worked, finding in particular that the weekly hours worked by women are sensitive to marginal tax wedges. In contrast, men’s working hours are influenced more by working-time and other regulations. Differences in leave entitlements account to an important extent for a shorter working year in Europe than elsewhere in the OECD area.


 Part II.   Thematic Studies

Chapter 4. The scope to enhance efficiency in primary and secondary education

Using resources devoted to education efficiently is a major challenge for improving human capital and, in turn, living standards. This chapter assesses how efficiency in primary and secondary education varies within and across OECD countries, by benchmarking schools using a common metric derived from PISA scores. It also documents how institutional and policy settings for schools diverge significantly from one country to another, and provides estimates of the gains in efficiency that could be obtained from moving them closer to best practice in a number of areas.

Chapter 5. Policies to enhance investment in higher education

Higher education is widely considered to be critical to sustain growth and to adapt to globalisation. As a consequence, OECD governments are considering reforms to address perceived shortcomings of existing higher education systems, while preserving or enhancing equality of access to higher education. This chapter shows how labour market conditions, policies and institutions affect private incentives to invest in higher education, as well as the ability of individuals to finance this investment and the supply characteristics of core educational services. It also assesses the relative importance of several reform options to affect the number of new tertiary education graduates across OECD countries, and, in this context, considers the trade-offs involved.


Chapter 6. Economic geography and GDP per capita

Distance to global markets can influence GDP per capita through its impact on trade flows, which in turn affect the efficiency of domestic business. Nevertheless, it has been argued that the world is “becoming flatter” – the so-called “death of distance” hypothesis. This chapter reports new transport cost data that show there is little evidence that the cost of transporting goods has declined over time relative to their price. It also suggests that distance to markets has significantly depressed living standards in remote OECD countries and raised them in centrally located countries. In addition, it argues that GDP per capita has been boosted in a few OECD countries by large natural resource endowments.


Chapter 7. International trade in services and domestic regulation

Services are often sheltered from competition in OECD economies, and international trade in services has barely increased relative to trade in goods in recent decades. Considerable behind-the-border regulatory barriers restrict the entry of foreign suppliers and make it harder for domestic suppliers to compete abroad. Such barriers include not only the overall level of restrictiveness, but the consistency of regulation across countries. This chapter describes how reducing differences in national regulations as well as the major restrictions in this area could lower trade costs, boosting productivity and GDP per capita.


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