Disentangling Various Explanations for the Declining Labor Share: Evidence from Millions of Firm Records
This paper uses millions of records from a cross-country and time series database of both publicly listed and private companies to disentangle the role of technological change, market power, and globalization in driving a fall in the labor share. Labor shares are measured at the enterprise level as the share of total remuneration to workers in value-added. Technological change is measured using research and development expenditures or total factor productivity growth. Market power is measured using four firm and twenty firm concentration ratios and globalization is measured as export shares in total revenues. We also supplement the cross-country evidence with a more in depth look at China using its industrial census. The evidence suggests that between 1995 and 2019 the most important driver of falling labor shares was technological change. Greater market power (measured by firm concentration ratios) also contributed to lower labor shares, but the magnitudes are smaller. Finally, the evidence on globalization is mixed: trade shares are at times negatively associated with the labor share but in the case of China there is a strong positive relationship between exporting and labor shares at the enterprise level.