Per-capita national income in the U.S. has risen substantially since the late 1970s, and while there have been significant wage increases for high-skill workers, the real earnings of the median worker have declined. Recently, there have been puzzling macroeconomic trends in wage dynamics. Periods with record low levels of unemployment have coincided with very little growth in real wages, an apparent contradiction of the long-standing Phillips curve analysis that suggests a negative relationship between unemployment and wage growth. There is no consensus about the magnitude of the slowdown in real wage growth or the relative importance of the different explanations. However, whether real wages are growing and, if so, for whom is fundamental to our understanding of social mobility and a range of other microeconomic and macroeconomic issues. These issues, which were important during a time of employment growth for most of the last decade, take on increased importance as the economy navigates the sharp rise in joblessness and related labor market disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To begin to address these issues, on May 20-21, 2021, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), with the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation, will host an on-line conference on “Wage Dynamics in the 21st Century.” The program will be organized by NBER researchers Erik Hurst (University of Chicago) and Lisa B. Kahn (University of Rochester).

The conference will highlight recent research on the measurement, causes, and consequences of wage dynamics. Examples of questions that might be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • How have fringe benefits changed over time and how have these changes affected trends in total compensation, relative to real wage stagnation?
  • How is declining labor force participation over the last 40 years and over the business cycle related to the stagnation of aggregate wage growth?
  • How does the choice of price index impact trends in real wage growth?
  • How have labor demand changes driven by technological change and trade impacted trends in aggregate wage growth?
  • How have declining unionization rates and changes in firm-level market power impacted wage growth?
  • How are life-cycle wage trajectories, in particular declining job mobility and flattening of age-earnings profiles for some groups, related to aggregate wage growth?
  • To what extent can stagnating aggregate wage growth explain declining labor force participation rates for some groups, declining rates of family formation, and the increase in opioid use and deaths of despair?
  • How do stagnating wages relate to general wage inequality and increased polarization within cities?
  • How are stagnating wages related to the seeming flattening of the Phillips Curve?

The NBER invites the submission of research papers for potential presentation at this conference. In keeping with the constraints that apply to all NBER research, papers may not include policy recommendations or have been published by May 2021. Researchers should submit papers for consideration for this symposium no later than 11:59pm on Thursday, January 28, 2021, at:

Papers from researchers with and without NBER affiliations, by early career scholars, and from researchers who are members of groups that are historically under-represented in economics are especially encouraged. Please feel free to forward this call for papers to colleagues who may also have interesting work to present. Authors chosen to present papers will be notified by early February, 2021. Questions about this meeting may be directed to