NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Industry Anatomy of the Transatlantic Productivity Growth Slowdown

Robert J. Gordon, Hassan Sayed

NBER Working Paper No. 25703
Issued in March 2019
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program

By merging KLEMS data sets and aggregating over the ten largest Western European nations (EU-10), we are able to compare and contrast productivity growth up through 2015 starting from 1950 in the U.S. and from 1972 in the EU-10. Data are provided at the aggregate level, as well as for 16 industry groups within the total economy and 11 manufacturing sub-industries. The analysis focuses on outcomes over four time intervals: 1950-72, 1972-95, 1995-2005, and 2005-15. We interpret the EU-10 performance as catching up to the U.S. in stages, with its rapid growth of 1950-72 representing a delayed adoption of the inventions that propelled U.S. productivity growth in the first half of the 20th century, and the next EU-10 stage for 1972-95 as imitating the U.S. outcome for 1950-72. We show that both the pace of aggregate productivity growth during 1972-95 for the EU-10 as well as its industrial composition matched very closely the growth record of the U.S. in the previous 1950-72 time interval.

A striking finding is that for the total economy the “early-to-late” productivity growth slowdown from 1972-95 to 2005-15 in the EU-10 (-1.68 percentage points) was almost identical to the U.S. slowdown from 1950-72 to 2005-15 (-1.67 percentage points). There is a very high EU-U.S. correlation in the magnitude of the early-to-late slowdown across industries. This supports our overall theme that the productivity growth slowdown from the early postwar years to the most recent decade was due to a retardation in technical change that affected the same industries by roughly the same magnitudes on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25703

 
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