Economic and psychological models of job search behavior of the unemployed

Ruth G. McFadyen, Jonathan P. Thomas*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Economic and psychological theories relating to job search behavior by the unemployed are considered. There exists a noticeable contrast between the economic approach which is almost exclusively based on a single model of the rational job seeker, and the diverse approaches adopted by psychologists. Accordingly, the paper concentrates on areas of research by psychologists which are relevant to the economic model. The paper starts with an overview of the research program in economics. Next, the psychological literature on the general well-being of the unemployed is briefly surveyed; this research might be useful in informing economic studies of the effects of the duration of unemployment on an individual's search behavior. Two psychological approaches to job search behavior are then discussed, namely expectancy-value theory and prospect theory. Findings using the expectancy-value approach suggest that certain psychological variables, including normative pressures, might play an important role in job search. In addition, these findings highlight the complex relationship between job expectations and search intensity. Finally, it is suggested that the role and importance of certain psychological variables such as status might be expected to vary over the course of unemployment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1461-1484
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1997


  • Duration effects
  • Expectancy-value theory
  • Job search
  • Prospect theory
  • Reservation wage


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