Understanding the Concept of Average Reservation Wage

"The average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—increased to $81,822, a new series high, from $73,391 in November 2023."
Average Reservation Wage

Understanding the Concept of Average Reservation Wage

The concept of the “average reservation wage” plays a crucial role in labor economics, shedding light on the minimum wage rate that workers are willing to accept before they agree to start working. This figure is not just a static number but a dynamic indicator that reflects various economic, social, and individual factors. Understanding the average reservation wage can help policymakers, businesses, and workers themselves navigate the complexities of the job market.

What is the Average Reservation Wage?

The average reservation wage is the average of the lowest wage rates that unemployed individuals state they are willing to accept to start working. It is a theoretical threshold below which workers are not prepared to supply their labor. This wage varies widely depending on several factors, including the individual’s previous salary, current financial needs, industry standards, and geographic location.

What is the current Average Reservation Wage?

According to the SCE Labor Market Survey “The average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—increased to $81,822, a new series high, from $73,391 in November 2023. This increase was most pronounced for men, respondents aged 45 and under, and those with an annual household income above $60,000.”

Factors Influencing the Average Reservation Wage

  1. Economic Conditions: During times of economic prosperity, reservation wages tend to be higher as workers anticipate better pay based on the healthy job market. Conversely, in a recession, reservation wages might decrease as workers adjust their expectations in a tighter job market.
  2. Unemployment Benefits: The level of governmental support, such as unemployment benefits, significantly affects reservation wages. Higher benefits can lead to higher reservation wages as there is less pressure to accept lower-paying jobs.
  3. Skill Levels: Highly skilled workers often have higher reservation wages due to their specialized knowledge and the higher pay they commanded in previous roles. In contrast, workers with fewer specialized skills might set lower reservation wages.
  4. Duration of Unemployment: The length of time an individual has been unemployed can also influence their reservation wage. Initially, a newly unemployed person might have a high reservation wage, which gradually decreases the longer they remain out of work.
  5. Psychological Factors: Personal expectations, previous work experiences, and even societal norms can shape one’s reservation wage. For instance, someone who has experienced a sudden job loss might maintain a high reservation wage as a form of psychological defense against perceived undervaluation.

Implications of the Average Reservation Wage

Understanding the average reservation wage has important implications for various sectors:

  • Employers: By recognizing the factors influencing reservation wages, employers can better strategize their hiring practices, including setting competitive salaries that attract the right talent.
  • Policymakers: For policymakers, understanding how external factors like unemployment benefits affect reservation wages can guide the formulation of effective labor policies that balance the needs of the economy with those of the workforce.
  • Job Seekers: Individuals can use knowledge of the average reservation wage to gauge their value in the job market, helping them negotiate salaries more effectively and make informed decisions about job offers.


The average reservation wage is a vital concept in labor economics that provides insights into the minimum compensation workers require before entering the workforce. It reflects a complex interplay of economic trends, personal circumstances, and social expectations. As such, both economists and participants in the labor market monitor changes in reservation wages closely, as these can be indicators of broader economic shifts and labor market dynamics.