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Real Wages, Working Time, and the Great Depression: What Does Micro Evidence Tell Us?

Author

Listed:
  • Hart, Robert A.

    () (University of Stirling)

  • Roberts, J. Elizabeth

    () (University of Stirling)

Abstract

Based largely on industry-level aggregate statistics, the prevailing view, and one that has strongly influenced macroeconomic thought, is that real wages during the cycle containing the Great Depression are either acyclical or countercyclical. Does this finding hold-up when more micro data are employed? We examine this question based on detailed blue-collar workers’ company payroll data for a large section of the British engineering and metal working industries. We distinguish between pieceworkers and timeworkers, with pieceworkers accounting for over half the workforce. For the period 1927 to 1937, the two pay groups are broken down into 14 occupations, and 48 travel-to-work geographical districts. We estimate wage and hours cyclicality in respect of the national unemployment rate as well as the district rates. Weekly hours and real weekly earnings are found to be strongly procyclical. Real hourly earnings of pieceworkers are also significantly procyclical. The roles of standard and overtime hours are crucial to these findings.

Suggested Citation

  • Hart, Robert A. & Roberts, J. Elizabeth, 2010. "Real Wages, Working Time, and the Great Depression: What Does Micro Evidence Tell Us?," IZA Discussion Papers 4977, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4977
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 1995. "The Wage Curve," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026202375x, January.
    2. Gary Solon & Robert Barsky & Jonathan A. Parker, 1994. "Measuring the Cyclicality of Real Wages: How Important is Composition Bias?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(1), pages 1-25.
    3. Ch. Pissarides., 2011. "The Unemployment Volatility Puzzle: Is Wage Stickiness the Answer?," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 1.
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    5. Katharine G. Abraham & John C. Haltiwanger, 1995. "Real Wages and the Business Cycle," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(3), pages 1215-1264, September.
    6. Robert B. Barsky & Gary Solon, 1989. "Real Wages Over The Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 2888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Eric T. Swanson, 2007. "Real Wage Cyclicality In The Panel Study Of Income Dynamics," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 54(5), pages 617-647, November.
    8. Moulton, Brent R., 1986. "Random group effects and the precision of regression estimates," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 385-397, August.
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    10. Hart, Robert A., 2008. "Piece work pay and hourly pay over the cycle," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 1006-1022, October.
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    13. Chirinko, Robert S, 1980. "The Real Wage Rate over the Business Cycle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 62(3), pages 459-461, August.
    14. Seiler, Eric, 1984. "Piece Rate vs. Time Rate: The Effect of Incentives on Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 66(3), pages 363-376, August.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    the Great Depression; timework; piecework; working time; real wage cyclicality;

    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • N64 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: 1913-

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