Workers of the less developed world unite? A multilevel analysis of unionization in less developed countries

Nathan D. Martin, David Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Past scholars of unionization have offered exemplary cross-national studies of affluent democracies and case studies of less developed countries (LDCs). What has been lacking is cross-national research on unionization across LDCs. We conduct a multilevel analysis of the likelihood that a worker is unionized with the late-1990s World Values surveys of 39 LDCs. We propose that unionization in LDCs can be explained by the individual characteristics of workers as well as the country-level factors of institutions, industrialization, and globalization. Our analyses yield several conclusions. First, owing to the legacy of state socialism, ex-communist countries have much higher unionization. Second, our analyses show that class very effectively explains union membership across LDCs. Although skilled manual workers are more unionized than most, educated professionals stand out for their distinctively high unionization. Third, the debt crisis significantly undermined unionization through the institutional influence of International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreements and the globalization pressure of debt service. Despite being the focus of much research, industrialization, democratization, the size of the state, International Labour Organization conventions, and international trade and investment are surprisingly insignificant. Decomposing the sample by communist legacy, signing an IMF agreement is significant in ex-communist countries, and debt service is significant in countries without a communist legacy. Overall, we conclude that the debt crisis has undermined unionization and class remains a powerful basis of mobilization across LDCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)562-584
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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