The U.S. Productivity Slowdown: A Case of Statistical Myopia

Michael R. Darby

NBER Working Paper No. 1018 (Also Reprint No. r0494)
Issued in November 1982
NBER Program(s):   ITI   IFM

This paper identifies three major periods: 1900-1929, 1929-1965, and 1965-1978. In contrast to the middle period, the extreme periods are characterized by rapid growth in private employment and hours worked; because growth in private productivity increases by less, measured labor productivity growth falls compared to the middle period. However this fall reflects a substantial substitution of quantity for quality in labor force growth: after private employment and hours are adjusted for age, sex, immigration, and education, no difference is observed among the average quality-adjusted labor productivity growth rates. Substantial variation in these growth rates remains within the 1929-1965 and 1965-1978 periods. Slow quality-adjusted labor productivity growth during 1929-1948 is just offset by unusually rapid growth during 1948-1965; these variations are attributed to the near cessation of investment during the Depression and World War II and subsequent recovery of the capital-labor ratio. Thus no substantial variations in total factor productivity growth or technical progress is found. Variations inproductivity growth within 1965-1978 are explained by price-control induced biases in reported deflated output. Correction of these biases results inequal quality-adjusted labor productivity growth in 1965-1973 and 1973-1978.A substantial program of future research is proposed. A data appendix is included.

download in pdf format
   (516 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (516 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1018

Published: Darby, Michael R. "The U.S. Productivity Slowdown: A Case of Statistical Myopia." The American Economic Review, Vol. 74, No. 3, (June 1984), pp. 30 1-322.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Romer Crazy Explanations for the Productivity Slowdown
Feyrer w15474 The US Productivity Slowdown, the Baby Boom, and Management Quality
Gordon w15834 Revisiting U. S. Productivity Growth over the Past Century with a View of the Future
Griliches w0434 R&D and the Productivity Slowdown
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us