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The Productivity Gap between Europe and the United States: Trends and Causes

  • Bart van Ark
  • Mary O'Mahoney
  • Marcel P. Timmer

Since the mid-1990s, labor productivity growth in Europe has significantly slowed compared to earlier decades. In contrast, labor productivity growth in the United States accelerated, so that a new productivity gap has opened up. This paper shows that this development is attributable to the slower emergence of the knowledge economy in Europe. We consider various explanations which are not mutually exclusive. These include lower growth contributions from investment in information and communication technology; the small share of information and communications technology-producing industries in Europe; and slower multifactor productivity growth, which proxies for advances in technology and innovation. Underlying these are issues related to the functioning of European labor markets and the high level of product market regulation in Europe. The paper emphasizes the key role of market service sectors in accounting for the productivity growth divergence between the two regions. We argue that improved productivity growth in Europe's market services will be needed to avoid a further widening of the productivity gap.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 22 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 25-44

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:22:y:2008:i:1:p:25-44
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.1.25
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  1. Belorgey, N. & Lecat, R. & Maury, T-P., 2004. "Déterminants de la productivité par employé : une évaluation empirique en données de panel," Bulletin de la Banque de France, Banque de France, issue 121, pages 87-113.
  2. André Sapir & Philippe Aghion & Giuseppe Bertola & Martin Hellwig & Jean Pisani-Ferry & Bernard Lange & José Viñals & Helen Wallace & Marco Buti & Mario Nava & Peter Smith, 2004. "An agenda for a growing Europe: the Sapir report," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/8070, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
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  4. Schettkat, Ronald & Yocarini, Lara, 2006. "The shift to services employment: A review of the literature," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 127-147, June.
  5. Bourlès, R. & Cette, G., 2006. "Trends in "structural" productivity levels in the major industrialized countries," Working papers 156, Banque de France.
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  7. Martin Neil Baily & Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, 2004. "Transforming the European Economy," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 353, March.
  8. Zilibotti, Fabrizio & Aghion, Philippe & Acemoglu, Daron, 2006. "Distance to Frontier, Selection, and Economic Growth," Scholarly Articles 4554122, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  9. Stephen Nickell, 1997. "Unemployment and Labor Market Rigidities: Europe versus North America," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 55-74, Summer.
  10. Marcel P. Timmer & Mary O’Mahony & Bart van Ark, 2007. "EU KLEMS Growth and Productivity Accounts: An Overview," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 14, pages 71-85, Spring.
  11. Maddison, Angus, 1987. "Growth and Slowdown in Advanced Capitalist Economies: Techniques of Quantitative Assessment," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 649-98, June.
  12. Olivier Blanchard, 2004. "The Economic Future of Europe," NBER Working Papers 10310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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