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Productivity Adjustments and Learning-by-Doing as Human Capital

  • Jim Bessen

This paper measures plant-level productivity gains associated with learning curves across the entire manufacturing sector. We measure these gains at plant startups and also after major employment changes. We find: 1.) The gains are strongly associated with a variety of human capital measures implying that learning-by-doing is largely a firm-specific human capital investment. 2.) This implicit investment is large; many plants invest as much in learning-by-doing as they invest in physical capital and much more than they invest in formal job training. 3.) This investment differs persistently over industries and is higher with greater R&D. 4.) Consistent with a learning-by-doing interpretation, the human capital investment is much larger following employment decreases than increases. We conclude that learning-by-doing is a major factor in wage determination, technical progress and asymmetric employment adjustment costs.

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Paper provided by Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau in its series Working Papers with number 97-17.

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Date of creation: Nov 1997
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Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:97-17
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  1. Eric J. Bartelsman & Wayne Gray, 1996. "The NBER Manufacturing Productivity Database," NBER Technical Working Papers 0205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-84, December.
  3. Martin Neil Baily & Eric J. Bartelsman & John Haltiwanger, 1998. "Labor Productivity: Structural Change and Cyclical Dynamics," Working Papers 98-7, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  4. Phil Auerswald & Jose Lobo & Karl Shell, . "A Microeconomic Theory of Learning-by-Doing: An Application of Nascent Technology Approach," Computing in Economics and Finance 1997 128, Society for Computational Economics.
  5. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Pfann, Gerard Antonie, 1996. "Adjustment Costs in Factor Demand," CEPR Discussion Papers 1371, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Bartel, Ann P & Lichtenberg, Frank R, 1987. "The Comparative Advantage of Educated Workers in Implementing New Technology," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(1), pages 1-11, February.
  7. James D Adams & Adam B Jaffe, 1994. "The Span of the Effect of R&D in the Firm and Industry," Working Papers 94-7, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  8. Ann P. Bartel & Nachum Sicherman, 1995. "Technological Change and the Skill Acquisition of Young Workers," NBER Working Papers 5107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Steven J. Davis & John C. Haltiwanger & Scott Schuh, 1998. "Job Creation and Destruction," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262540932, June.
  10. Barry T. Hirsch & David A. Macpherson, 1993. "Union Membership and Coverage Files from the Current Population Surveys: Note," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(3), pages 574-578, April.
  11. Cohen, Wesley M & Levinthal, Daniel A, 1989. "Innovation and Learning: The Two Faces of R&D," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(397), pages 569-96, September.
  12. Kenneth R Troske, 1994. "Evidence on the Employer Size-Wage Premium From Worker-Establishment Matched Data," Working Papers 94-10, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  13. Bresnahan, Timothy F & Ramey, Valerie A, 1994. "Output Fluctuations at the Plant Level," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(3), pages 593-624, August.
  14. Bahk, Byong-Hong & Gort, Michael, 1993. "Decomposing Learning by Doing in New Plants," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(4), pages 561-83, August.
  15. Andrew Weiss, 1995. "Human Capital vs. Signalling Explanations of Wages," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 133-154, Fall.
  16. Hutchens, Robert M, 1989. "Seniority, Wages and Productivity: A Turbulent Decade," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 49-64, Fall.
  17. Bartel, A.P. & Sicherman, N., 1995. "Technological Change and the Skill Acquisition of Young Workers," Papers 95-10, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  18. Shaked, Avner & Sutton, John, 1984. "Involuntary Unemployment as a Perfect Equilibrium in a Bargaining Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(6), pages 1351-64, November.
  19. Ron Jarmin, 1996. "Learning by Doing and Plant Characteristics," Working Papers 96-5, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  20. Linda Argote & Sara L. Beckman & Dennis Epple, 1990. "The Persistence and Transfer of Learning in Industrial Settings," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(2), pages 140-154, February.
  21. Hashimoto, Masanori, 1981. "Firm-Specific Human Capital as a Shared Investment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 475-82, June.
  22. Argote, L. & Epple, D., 1990. "Learning Curves In Manufacturing," GSIA Working Papers 89-90-02, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
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