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Wages, Productivity, and Work Intensity in the Great Depression


  • Julia Darby

    () (Department of Economics, University of Strathclyde, Sir William Duncan Building, 130 Rottenrow, Glasgow G4 0GE, United Kingdom)

  • Robert A. Hart

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stirling, Cottrell Building, Stirling FK9 4LA, United Kingdom)


We show that U.S. manufacturing wages during the Great Depression were importantly determined by forces on firms' intensive margins. Short-run changes in work intensity and the longer-term influence of potential productivity combined to influence real wage growth. By contrast, the external effects of unemployment and replacement rates had much less impact. Empirical work is undertaken against the background of a simple efficient bargaining model that embraces earnings, employment, hours of work, and work intensity.

Suggested Citation

  • Julia Darby & Robert A. Hart, 2008. "Wages, Productivity, and Work Intensity in the Great Depression," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 91-103, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:75:1:y:2008:p:91-103

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fair, Ray C, 1985. "Excess Labor and the Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 239-245, March.
    2. Svejnar, Jan, 1986. "Bargaining Power, Fear of Disagreement, and Wage Settlements: Theory and Evidence from U.S. Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(5), pages 1055-1078, September.
    3. M. M. Bober, 1937. "The Economics of the Iron and Steel Industry," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 52(1), pages 179-185.
    4. Ben S. Bernanke & Kevin Carey, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 5439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Johnson, George E, 1990. "Work Rules, Featherbedding, and Pareto-optimal Union-Management Bargaining," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 237-259, January.
    6. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1997. "The NAIRU, Unemployment and Monetary Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 33-49, Winter.
    7. Darby, Julia & Hart, Robert A. & Vecchi, Michela, 2001. "Wages, work intensity and unemployment in Japan, UK and USA," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 243-258, May.
    8. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 1999. "The Great Depression in the United States from a neoclassical perspective," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 2-24.
    9. Anthony Patrick O'Brien, 1989. "A Behavioral Explanation for Nominal Wage Rigidity During the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(4), pages 719-735.
    10. Jeffrey C. Fuhrer, 1995. "The Phillips curve is alive and well," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Mar, pages 41-56.
    11. Ben S. Bernanke & Kevin Carey, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 853-883.
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    Cited by:

    1. Margarita Katsimi & Sarantis Kalyvitis & Thomas Moutos, 2009. ""Unwarranted" Wage Changes and the Return on Capital," CESifo Working Paper Series 2804, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • N62 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


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