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):International Trade and Investment, International Finance and Macroeconomics

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

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. citation courtesy of

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

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

Contact Us