IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/oup/qjecon/v135y2020i2p645-709..html
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms
[“Automation and New Tasks: How Technology Displaces and Reinstates Labor”]

Author

Listed:
  • David Autor
  • David Dorn
  • Lawrence F Katz
  • Christina Patterson
  • John Van Reenen

Abstract

The fall of labor’s share of GDP in the United States and many other countries in recent decades is well documented but its causes remain uncertain. Existing empirical assessments typically rely on industry or macro data, obscuring heterogeneity among firms. In this article, we analyze micro panel data from the U.S. Economic Census since 1982 and document empirical patterns to assess a new interpretation of the fall in the labor share based on the rise of “superstar firms.” If globalization or technological changes push sales toward the most productive firms in each industry, product market concentration will rise as industries become increasingly dominated by superstar firms, which have high markups and a low labor share of value added. We empirically assess seven predictions of this hypothesis: (i) industry sales will increasingly concentrate in a small number of firms; (ii) industries where concentration rises most will have the largest declines in the labor share; (iii) the fall in the labor share will be driven largely by reallocation rather than a fall in the unweighted mean labor share across all firms; (iv) the between-firm reallocation component of the fall in the labor share will be greatest in the sectors with the largest increases in market concentration; (v) the industries that are becoming more concentrated will exhibit faster growth of productivity; (vi) the aggregate markup will rise more than the typical firm’s markup; and (vii) these patterns should be observed not only in U.S. firms but also internationally. We find support for all of these predictions.

Suggested Citation

  • David Autor & David Dorn & Lawrence F Katz & Christina Patterson & John Van Reenen, 2020. "The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms [“Automation and New Tasks: How Technology Displaces and Reinstates Labor”]," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 135(2), pages 645-709.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:135:y:2020:i:2:p:645-709.
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qjaa004
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.
    ---><---

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Morris M. Kleiner & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Analyzing the Extent and Influence of Occupational Licensing on the Labor Market," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 173-202.
    2. Robert J. Gordon, 2016. "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10544.
    3. Marc J. Melitz & Sašo Polanec, 2015. "Dynamic Olley-Pakes productivity decomposition with entry and exit," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 46(2), pages 362-375, June.
    4. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Pierre-Daniel Sarte & Nicholas Trachter, 2021. "Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(1), pages 115-150.
    5. David Autor & David Dorn & Lawrence F. Katz & Christina Patterson & John Van Reenen, 2017. "Concentrating on the Fall of the Labor Share," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 180-185, May.
    6. Matthias Kehrig & Nicolas Vincent, 2021. "The Micro-Level Anatomy of the Labor Share Decline," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 136(2), pages 1031-1087.
    7. Charles I. Jones, 2003. "Growth, capital shares, and a new perspective on production functions," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    8. Barney Glaser & Hanno Lustig & Mindy Zhang, 2016. "National Income Accounting When Firms Insure Managers: Understanding Firm Size and Compensation Inequality," Working Papers id:11353, eSocialSciences.
    9. David Autor & Anna Salomons, 2018. "Is Automation Labor-Displacing? Productivity Growth, Employment, and the Labor Share," NBER Working Papers 24871, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Aghion, Philippe & Howitt, Peter, 1992. "A Model of Growth through Creative Destruction," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 60(2), pages 323-351, March.
    11. Marc J. Melitz, 2003. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(6), pages 1695-1725, November.
    12. David H. Autor & David Dorn & Gordon H. Hanson, 2013. "The China Syndrome: Local Labor Market Effects of Import Competition in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2121-2168, October.
    13. Dongya Koh & Raül Santaeulàlia‐Llopis & Yu Zheng, 2020. "Labor Share Decline and Intellectual Property Products Capital," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(6), pages 2609-2628, November.
    14. Hartman-Glaser, Barney & Lustig, Hanno & Zhang, Mindy X., 2017. "Capital Share Dynamics When Firms Insure Workers," Research Papers 3534, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    15. Ghazala Azmat & Alan Manning & John Van Reenen, 2012. "Privatization and the Decline of Labour's Share: International Evidence from Network Industries," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 79(315), pages 470-492, July.
    16. Boldrin,Michele & Levine,David K., 2010. "Against Intellectual Monopoly," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521127264.
    17. Deborah Goldschmidt & Johannes F. Schmieder, 2017. "The Rise of Domestic Outsourcing and the Evolution of the German Wage Structure," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(3), pages 1165-1217.
    18. Monika Mrázová & J. Peter Neary, 2017. "Not So Demanding: Demand Structure and Firm Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(12), pages 3835-3874, December.
    19. Jae Song & David J Price & Fatih Guvenen & Nicholas Bloom & Till von Wachter, 2019. "Firming Up Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 134(1), pages 1-50.
    20. Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan & Bent Sørensen & Carolina Villegas-Sanchez & Vadym Volosovych & Sevcan Yesiltas, 2015. "How to Construct Nationally Representative Firm Level Data from the Orbis Global Database: New Facts on SMEs and Aggregate Implications for Industry Concentration," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 15-110/IV, Tinbergen Institute, revised 25 Jan 2022.
    21. David Rezza Baqaee & Emmanuel Farhi, 2020. "Productivity and Misallocation in General Equilibrium," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 135(1), pages 105-163.
    22. Daron Acemoglu & Pascual Restrepo, 2019. "Automation and New Tasks: How Technology Displaces and Reinstates Labor," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 3-30, Spring.
    23. Sørensen, Bent E & Kalemli-Özcan, Sebnem & Volosovych, Vadym & Villegas-Sanchez, Carolina & Yesiltas, Sevcan, 2015. "How to construct nationally representative firm level data from the ORBIS global database," CEPR Discussion Papers 10829, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    24. Philippon, Thomas & Gutierrez, German, 2018. "How EU Markets Became More Competitive Than US Markets: A Study of Institutional Drift," CEPR Discussion Papers 12983, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    25. Lucia Foster & John Haltiwanger & Chad Syverson, 2016. "The Slow Growth of New Plants: Learning about Demand?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 83(329), pages 91-129, January.
    26. Robert Z. Lawrence, 2015. "Recent Declines in Labor's Share in US Income: A Preliminary Neoclassical Account," NBER Working Papers 21296, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    27. Joe S. Bain, 1951. "Relation of Profit Rate to Industry Concentration: American Manufacturing, 1936–1940," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 65(3), pages 293-324.
    28. Olley, G Steven & Pakes, Ariel, 1996. "The Dynamics of Productivity in the Telecommunications Equipment Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(6), pages 1263-1297, November.
    29. Schmalensee, Richard, 1987. "Collusion versus Differential Efficiency: Testing Alternative Hypotheses," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(4), pages 399-425, June.
    30. Efraim Benmelech & Nittai K. Bergman & Hyunseob Kim, 2022. "Strong Employers and Weak Employees: How Does Employer Concentration Affect Wages?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 57(S), pages 200-250.
    31. Mai Dao & Ms. Mitali Das & Zsoka Koczan & Weicheng Lian, 2017. "Why Is Labor Receiving a Smaller Share of Global Income? Theory and Empirical Evidence," IMF Working Papers 2017/169, International Monetary Fund.
    32. Lucia Foster & John Haltiwanger & Chad Syverson, 2008. "Reallocation, Firm Turnover, and Efficiency: Selection on Productivity or Profitability?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 394-425, March.
    33. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 2019. "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995–2015," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 72(2), pages 382-416, March.
    34. Mary O'Mahony & Marcel P. Timmer, 2009. "Output, Input and Productivity Measures at the Industry Level: The EU KLEMS Database," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(538), pages 374-403, June.
    35. Arindrajit Dube & Ethan Kaplan, 2010. "Does Outsourcing Reduce Wages in the Low-Wage Service Occupations? Evidence from Janitors and Guards," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 63(2), pages 287-306, January.
    36. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 1978. "On the Size Distribution of Business Firms," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 9(2), pages 508-523, Autumn.
    37. Daniel Berkowitz, 2017. "Does Capital-Labor Substitution or Do Institutions Explain Declining Labor Shares," Working Paper 6060, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.
    38. Douglas Gollin, 2002. "Getting Income Shares Right," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(2), pages 458-474, April.
    39. F. A. Lutz, 1961. "The Theory of Capital," International Economic Association Series, Palgrave Macmillan, number 978-1-349-08452-4 edited by D. C. Hague, February.
    40. Tor Jakob Klette & Samuel Kortum, 2004. "Innovating Firms and Aggregate Innovation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(5), pages 986-1018, October.
    41. Joao Paulo Pessoa & John Van Reenen, 2013. "Wage growth and productivity growth: the myth and reality of 'decoupling'," CentrePiece - The magazine for economic performance 401, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    42. Bridgman, Benjamin, 2018. "Is Labor'S Loss Capital'S Gain? Gross Versus Net Labor Shares," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(8), pages 2070-2087, December.
    43. Matthew Rognlie, 2015. "Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 50(1 (Spring), pages 1-69.
    44. Anders Akerman & Edwin Leuven & Magne Mogstad, 2022. "Information Frictions, Internet, and the Relationship between Distance and Trade," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 133-163, January.
    45. Loukas Karabarbounis & Brent Neiman, 2019. "Accounting for Factorless Income," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 167-228.
    46. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
    47. Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan & Bent Sorensen & Carolina Villegas-Sanchez & Vadym Volosovych & Sevcan Yesiltas, 2015. "How to Construct Nationally Representative Firm Level Data from the Orbis Global Database: New Facts and Aggregate Implications," NBER Working Papers 21558, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    48. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1993. "Labor Demand and the Source of Adjustment Costs," NBER Working Papers 4394, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    49. Nicolas Vincent & Matthias Kehrig, 2017. "Growing Productivity without Growing Wages: The Micro-Level Anatomy of the Aggregate Labor Share Decline," 2017 Meeting Papers 739, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    50. Giorgio Galeazzi & Daniel S. Hamermesh (ed.), 1993. "Dynamic Labor Demand And Adjustment Costs," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 551.
    51. Dan Andrews & Chiara Criscuolo & Peter N. Gal, 2015. "Frontier Firms, Technology Diffusion and Public Policy: Micro Evidence from OECD Countries," OECD Productivity Working Papers 2, OECD Publishing.
    52. Matthew Rognlie, 2015. "Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share: Accumulation or Scarcity?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 46(1 (Spring), pages 1-69.
    53. Joao Paulo Pessoa & John Van Reenen, 2013. "Decoupling of Wage Growth and Productivity Growth? Myth and Reality," CEP Discussion Papers dp1246, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    54. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 2016. "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015," Working Papers 603, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    55. Brian Bell, 2015. "Wage stagnation and the legacy costs of employment," CentrePiece - The magazine for economic performance 458, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    56. Gilbert, Richard J & Newbery, David M G, 1982. "Preemptive Patenting and the Persistence of Monopoly," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 514-526, June.
    57. Nicholas Kaldor, 1961. "Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth," International Economic Association Series, in: D. C. Hague (ed.), The Theory of Capital, chapter 0, pages 177-222, Palgrave Macmillan.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Geoff Weir, 2018. "Wage Growth Puzzles and Technology," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2018-10, Reserve Bank of Australia.
    2. Guimarães, Luís & Mazeda Gil, Pedro, 2022. "Explaining the Labor Share: Automation Vs Labor Market Institutions," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(C).
    3. Matias Covarrubias & Germán Gutiérrez & Thomas Philippon, 2019. "From Good to Bad Concentration? US Industries over the Past 30 Years," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2019, volume 34, pages 1-46, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Emilien Gouin-Bonenfant, 2018. "Productivity Dispersion, Between-firm Competition and the Labor Share," 2018 Meeting Papers 1171, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    5. Jones, C.I., 2016. "The Facts of Economic Growth," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & Harald Uhlig (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 0, pages 3-69, Elsevier.
    6. Richiardi, Matteo G. & Valenzuela, Luis, 2019. "Firm Heterogeneity and the Aggregate Labour Share," MPRA Paper 94561, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. John Van Reenen, 2018. "Increasing differences between firms: market power and the macro-economy," CEP Discussion Papers dp1576, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    8. Luis Díez Catalán, 2018. "The labor share in the service economy," Working Papers 18/09, BBVA Bank, Economic Research Department.
    9. Matthias Kehrig & Nicolas Vincent, 2017. "Growing Productivity without Growing Wages: The Micro-Level Anatomy of the Aggregate Labor Share Decline," CESifo Working Paper Series 6454, CESifo.
    10. Loukas Karabarbounis & Brent Neiman, 2019. "Accounting for Factorless Income," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 167-228.
    11. repec:hal:wpspec:info:hdl:2441/5j3i17uo7399t940lrt6h6n545 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Panon, Ludovic, 2022. "Labor share, foreign demand and superstar exporters," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 139(C).
    13. Bom, Pedro R.D. & Erauskin, Iñaki, 2022. "Productive government investment and the labor share," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 347-363.
    14. repec:hal:spmain:info:hdl:2441/5j3i17uo7399t940lrt6h6n545 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Saumik Paul & Yoko Oishi, 2018. "A Primer on the Drivers of Labor Income Share," Working Papers id:12948, eSocialSciences.
    16. Alessandro Bellocchi & Giovanni Marin & Giuseppe Travaglini, 2021. "The Great Fall of Labor Share:Micro Determinants for EU Countries Over 2011-2019," Working Papers 2102, University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Department of Economics, Society & Politics - Scientific Committee - L. Stefanini & G. Travaglini, revised 2021.
    17. Villegas-Sanchez, Carolina & Díez, Federico & Fan, Jiayue, 2019. "Global Declining Competition," CEPR Discussion Papers 13696, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    18. Goldin, Ian & Koutroumpis, Pantelis & Lafond, François & Winkler, Julian, 2020. "Why is productivity slowing down?," MPRA Paper 99172, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    19. Filip Abraham & Yannick Bormans, 2020. "The Impact of Superstar Firms on the Labor Share: Evidence from Belgium," De Economist, Springer, vol. 168(3), pages 369-402, September.
    20. Mertens, Matthias, 2019. "Micro-mechanisms behind declining labour shares: Market power, production processes, and global competition," IWH-CompNet Discussion Papers 3/2019, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).
    21. Elena Crivellaro & Aikaterini Karadimitropoulou, 2019. "The role of financial constraints on labour share developments: macro- and micro-level evidence," Working Papers 257, Bank of Greece.
    22. Ufuk Akcigit & Sina T. Ates, 2023. "What Happened to US Business Dynamism?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 131(8), pages 2059-2124.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:135:y:2020:i:2:p:645-709.. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Oxford University Press (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://academic.oup.com/qje .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.