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Aggregate Hours Worked in OECD Countries: New Measurement and Implications for Business Cycles

  • Lee E. Ohanian
  • Andrea Raffo

We build a new quarterly dataset of aggregate hours worked consistent with standard NIPA constructs for 14 OECD countries over the last fifty years. We find that cyclical features of labor markets across countries differ markedly from the accepted empirical facts reported in the literature based on either just U.S. hours data, or based on cross-country employment data. We document that total hours worked in many OECD countries are about as volatile as output, that a relatively large fraction of labor market adjustment takes place along the intensive margin outside the United States, and that the volatility of total hours relative to output volatility has increased over time in almost all countries. We use these data to re-assess productivity and labor wedges during the Great Recession and during prior recessions. We find that the Great Recession in many OECD countries is a significant puzzle in that labor wedges are quite small, while those in the U.S. Great Recession - and those in previous European recessions - are much larger. These new data indicate that understanding cyclical labor fluctuations in OECD countries requires understanding why hours fluctuate so much more than previously considered, how and why labor markets changed so much in the last few years, why cyclical adjustment of hours per worker in countries with large firing costs is not even larger than observed, and why the Great Recession differs so much across countries.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17420.

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Date of creation: Sep 2011
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Publication status: published as Ohanian, Lee E. & Raffo, Andrea, 2012. "Aggregate hours worked in OECD countries: New measurement and implications for business cycles," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 40-56.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17420
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