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Dynamic Effects of Labor Supply: a mechanism explaining cross-sectional differences in hours


  • Ricardo Manuel Santos

    (Trinity University)


This paper first establishes the empirical fact that over the last quarter of the 20th century, the average weekly hours worked increased for workers in the highest wage quintile while it decreased for the ones at the lowest. In 1976, a worker in the lowest quintile worked 2.8 hours more per week than a high wage worker (worker in the highest quintile), but by 2006, the low wage worker worked 1 hour less. During this period, there was also a wide increase in wage inequality. The typical mechanism in which hours are only determined by contemporaneous wages cannot simultaneously explain the pattern found in both variables for every quintile. This paper attempts to reconcile these cross-sectional trends in both hours and wages for the U.S. during this time period. As a first step, we show that compositional changes (in education, occupation and age) within quintiles can only explain a fraction of the observed pattern. Next, we propose a mechanism in which individuals' current decisions of how much to work take into account two components: the contemporaneous benefit of the wage received, and also how current hours worked affects the probability of moving across the wage distribution in later periods. The latter dynamic component is estimated from our dataset. We find that changes over time in how hours affect these probabilities provided incentives that differ across the quintiles, and are consistent with the labor supply decisions observed in the data. We incorporate these two components into an equilibrium model of heterogeneous agents with uninsurable income risk. We are able to replicate the decline in hours for the bottom of the distribution as well as the increase at the top. The ratio of hours worked between the two groups delivered by the model also fits the trend found in the data. (Copyright: Elsevier)

Suggested Citation

  • Ricardo Manuel Santos, 2014. "Dynamic Effects of Labor Supply: a mechanism explaining cross-sectional differences in hours," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(4), pages 630-653, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:issued:10-28
    DOI: 10.1016/

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Vandenbroucke, Guillaume, 2009. "Trends in hours: The U.S. from 1900 to 1950," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 237-249, January.
    2. David Domeij & Martin Floden, 2006. "The Labor-Supply Elasticity and Borrowing Constraints: Why Estimates are Biased," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(2), pages 242-262, April.
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    5. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78.
    6. Conesa, Juan Carlos & Krueger, Dirk, 2006. "On the optimal progressivity of the income tax code," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1425-1450, October.
    7. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
    8. Juan Carlos Conesa & Sagiri Kitao & Dirk Krueger, 2009. "Taxing Capital? Not a Bad Idea after All!," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 25-48, March.
    9. Jonathan Heathcote & Kjetil Storesletten & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Implications of Rising Wage Inequality in the United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(4), pages 681-722, August.
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    14. MaCurdy, Thomas E, 1981. "An Empirical Model of Labor Supply in a Life-Cycle Setting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(6), pages 1059-1085, December.
    15. Peter Kuhn & Fernando Lozano, 2008. "The Expanding Workweek? Understanding Trends in Long Work Hours among U.S. Men, 1979-2006," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 311-343, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Aguiar & Mark Bils & Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst, 2017. "Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men," NBER Working Papers 23552, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Macroeconomics; Labor supply decisions; Heterogeneous agents;

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion


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