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The Role of Labour Market Changes in the Slowdown of European Productivity Growth

  • Dew-Becker, Ian
  • Gordon, Robert J

Throughout the post-war era until 1995 labour productivity grew faster in Europe than in the United States. Since 1995, productivity growth in the EU-15 has slowed while that in the United States has accelerated. But Europe’s productivity growth slowdown was largely offset by faster growth in employment per capita, leaving little difference in growth of output per capita between the EU and US going back to 1980. This paper is about the strong negative trade-off between productivity and employment growth within Europe. We document this trade-off in the raw data, in regressions that control for the two-way causation between productivity and employment growth, and we show that there is a robust negative correlation between productivity and employment growth across countries and time. Our primary explanatory variables to explain both the revival of EU employment growth and the slowdown in productivity growth include six policy and institutional variables. We find that several of these variables have significant negative effects on employment per capita, with policy changes that raised labour costs reducing employment both before and after 1995. These variables, together with employment per capita, are then used to explain productivity growth, using several alternative treatments with instrumental variables. We also find a significant time effect, and we link this to an increase in labour force participation by women, particularly in southern European countries. We find that the negative effect of changes in employment per capita on changes in productivity is robust to alternative instruments and to the inclusion or exclusion of particular countries like the US or Spain. We conclude by suggesting that evaluations of alternative policy reforms in Europe should take into account any offsetting effects on employment and productivity by examining the ultimate impact on changes in income per capita.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6722.

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Date of creation: Feb 2008
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6722
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