Labor Productivity: Structural Change and Cyclical Dynamics

M.N. Baily, E.J. Bartelsman, J. Haltiwanger

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademic


A longstanding issue in empirical economics is the behavior of average labor productivity over the business cycle. This paper provides new insights into the cyclicality of aggregate labor productivity by examining the cyclical behavior of productivity at the plant level as well as the role of reallocation across plants over the cycle. We find that plant-level productivity is even more procyclical than aggregate productivity, because short-run reallocation yields a countercyclical contribution to labor productivity. At the plant level, we find that cyclicality of productivity varies systematically with long-run employment growth. Over the course of the cycle, plants that are long-run downsizers exhibit significantly greater procyclicality of productivity than do long-run upsizers. When we control for the direction of a cyclical shock, we find that the fall in productivity from an adverse cyclical shock for long-run downsizers is significantly larger in magnitude than is the fall in productivity from an equivalent adverse cyclical shock for long-run upsizers. We argue that these findings raise questions about one of the most popular explanations of procyclical productivity: changing factor utilization over the cycle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-433
Number of pages14
JournalReview of Economics and Statistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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