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Micro Data and the Macro Elasticity of Substitution


  • Ezra Oberfield
  • Devesh Raval


We estimate the aggregate elasticity of substitution between capital and labor in the US manufacturing sector. We show that the aggregate elasticity of substitution can be expressed as a simple function of plant level structural parameters and sufficient statistics of the distribution of plant input cost shares. We then use plant level data from the Census of Manufactures to construct a local elasticity of substitution at various levels of aggregation. Our approach does not assume the existence of a stable aggregate production function, as we build up our estimate from the cross section of plants at a point in time. Accounting for substitution within and across plants, we find that the aggregate elasticity is substantially below unity at approximately 0.7. Lastly we assess the sources of the bias of aggregate technical change from 1987 to 1997. We find that the labor augmenting character of aggregate technical change is due almost exclusively to labor augmenting productivity growth at the plant level rather than relative growth in capital intensive plants.

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  • Ezra Oberfield & Devesh Raval, 2012. "Micro Data and the Macro Elasticity of Substitution," Working Papers 12-05, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:12-05

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Miguel A. León-Ledesma & Peter McAdam & Alpo Willman, 2010. "Identifying the Elasticity of Substitution with Biased Technical Change," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1330-1357, September.
    2. Rainer Klump & Peter McAdam & Alpo Willman, 2007. "Factor Substitution and Factor-Augmenting Technical Progress in the United States: A Normalized Supply-Side System Approach," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 183-192, February.
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    elasticity of substitution; aggregation; bias of technical change;

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