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Trade union membership has declined drastically in various nations in the recent past. This has attracted economists, especially those in the industrial relations, into conducting studies that would investigate the cause of the slowed growth in trade unions. The understanding of such factors is essential in determining the strengths and weaknesses of unions.

Various econometric models have used which have been based on comparisons between union memberships in various unionized nations. These studies are essential since the reduction of union membership may result to reduced bargaining power of the trade unions and this would directly have impacts on the labor market. The puzzle comes in where union members have more employee benefits than the non union members and yet there is erosion of union membership in many of the unionized states.

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For instance, union members enjoy higher wages, job security, good working conditions and provision of training services, among other benefits (Bernd 2006). This is in contrast to non union employees who may lack all or most of these benefits. The question then arises; with all these benefits, why are employees in unionized states not joining the trade unions? This paper looks at some of the factors that determine union membership.

Determinants of trade union membership

The determinants of union membership can be grouped into various categories. These include personal reasons, workplace regulations, social and economic factors as well as political factors. The age of employees is one of the major determinants on union membership. As most workers age, major responsibilities come their way from personal goals to family responsibilities.

Similarly, capital increases as one ages resulting from promotions in the workplace. As a result, older workers get more interested on job security than the young ones are. They therefore join trade unions as a form of security for their jobs. However, this interest may fade away when employees get confident on their success in the labor market.

A group of employees with approximately the same age may also have similar impact on the membership in unions. Another determinant of union membership is the sex of the employees where male employees are more likely to join trade unions than their female counterparts. This is because women are not as attached to labor market as males are. In addition, females are less likely to accumulate much human capital thus may not require security for the same.

On the same note, many trade unions are essentially directed to serve the needs of the male employees rather than the female members. It is, therefore, less likely that women will join the unions (Fatima 2002). Since the number of women in the labor market is increasing each day with many of them less interested in the trade unions, the rate of union membership has been decreasing drastically.

Education is another factor influencing union membership. Employees with higher education are obviously involved in higher areas in the workplace and this is precisely the reason why they join trade unions to secure their positions. On the other hand, higher education may be involved with professionalism in management where the involved party does not require the involvement of a union.

However, the two situations depend on the level of education where a vocational trained employee is likely to join union membership while a university graduate may choose not to join. Another significant individual factor to union membership is marital status. For instance, in a situation where both couples are working, the risk of job insecurity is much spread between the two partners.

This reduces the need for the couple to secure their jobs hence they are less likely to join trade unions. However, this case may be different where a married couple has children and other family responsibilities. This drives them into joining trade unions to secure their jobs so that they can continue providing for their families. Similarly, single employees have the whole burden of being providers and therefore they are more likely to join union membership (Fatima 2002).

Citizenship is also another factor especially where foreigners are involved. Despite the fact that foreign employees usually have weaker attachments to labor markets whenever they are involved, differences in their culture and those of the foreign country may be a hindrance to union membership. The rate of union membership among foreigners is likely to be low.

Besides personal related factors, there are other determinants of union membership. Political factors are also influential in union membership. For instance, some political parties may have close relationships with trade unions. Employees who are followers of such political parties are more likely to join the trade unions than non party employees. For example, the Social democratic party in Germany has close relations with trade unions.

Most of its followers are union members. Wages of employees is also a very significant determinant in union membership. The rate of membership increases with increase in wage and since high wages are associated with high employee status, many such employees choose not to join the unions to avoid paying higher membership fees and also because of their professional status such as management positions.

On the other hand, higher wages may mean increased human capital which calls for security from individual employees or for the firm’s stability. The status of employees also matters because trade unions were initially developed for employees in blue collar jobs so that their interests could accommodate those of the unions.

Civil servants have equal needs for stability in the labor markets as the blue collar workers. However, white collar employees may not require to secure their jobs hence do not often join trade unions. In the recent past, however, blue collar workers have drawn away from union membership due to weak labor market on their part in respect to working time since most of them are part time workers (Bernd 2006).

Employees who have been faced with unemployment situations in their past, may are more likely to join union membership to secure their jobs in the future compared to those who have always been employed. On the other hand, unemployment rates may be directly related to decreased attachment to labor markets on the part of the unions and this may reduce membership. Since most employees join unions to secure and protect their positions in the labor markets, job satisfaction is a very key determinant of union membership.

In this case, workers who are satisfied with their jobs may not have the need to join the unions since their rights as employees are being honored. Similarly, employees who are not satisfied are likely to join union membership since most unions work alongside works councils to provide grounds under which employees can voice out their plea as well as providing legal advice to employees in case of a law suit between the employer and the worker.

Dissatisfied employees are therefore more attracted to membership (Laszko and Markus 2010). Similar to most of the other factors discussed, this may as well reduce membership. This occurs when the mediation between the employer and the union leads to job satisfaction hence reducing the need of the workers to join unions.

Some employees may hold a certain position in workplace for such a long time such that trust and loyalty is built up between the worker and the employer. This decreases chances of the employee joining trade unions. On the other hand, the increased tenure may result to increase in individual capital during time which the worker will require protection hence increase chances of union membership.

The industry under which the employees work also determines union membership in that public workers and those in the manufacturing industry are more targeted by the unions than those in the private sector. This is because competition is low in these sectors hence the interests of the employer and the employee are taken into consideration. High competition in the private sector makes union membership more difficult thus reducing likelihood of such workers to union membership.


Generally, trade union membership can be said to depend on the employee in accordance with the conditions of the workplace.

This is because the unions are specifically designed to protect the rights of the employee and therefore, most workers join the unions or fail to do so depending on the workplace as well as the security offered in the labor market which has become very competitive in the last few decades.

Employees should therefore consider and balance all the factors associated with union membership to make a decision that suits their interests.

Works Cited

Bernd, Fitzenberger et al. the erosion of union membership in Germany: determinants,

densities, decompositions. 2006 – July 05, 2011,

Fatima, Said, et al. the determinants of trade union membership growth in Malaysia.

2002 – July 05, 2011,

Laszko, Goerke and Markus, Pannenberg. Trade union membership and dismissals.

2010 – July 05, 2011,