Examining the Incidence of Downsizing and Its Effect on Establishment Performance

Peter Cappelli

NBER Working Paper No. 7742
Issued in June 2000
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies Program

The interest in examining job security and job stability has been driven in part by the phenomenon of downsizing. The distinctiveness of downsizing, as opposed to more traditional layoffs, is that the job cuts do not necessarily appear to be driven by shortfalls in demand but instead appear to be driven by the search for operating efficiencies. Despite the interest in downsizing, there has been essentially no serious investigation into its causes. I distinguish downsizing from job cuts associated with shortfalls in demand and find that employment and management practices over which employers have control, such as severance pay and profit sharing, are important predictors of subsequent downsizing and more general job losses. Surprisingly, excess operating capacity is not necessarily related to more general job losses at the establishment level. I also examine the relationship between both job losses associated with shortfalls in demand and downsizing and subsequent financial performance. The results suggest, among other things, that downsizing reduces labor costs per employee but also sales per employee. Job cuts associated with excess capacity appear to be somewhat more successful at improving sales per employee than is downsizing.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7742


  • Neumark, David (ed.) On the Job: Is Long-term Employment A Thing of the Past? New York: Russell Sage, 2000.
  • Excerpted in Monthly Labor Review 123, 8 (August 2000): 40.

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