IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Financial Frictions and Employment during the Great Depression


  • Efraim Benmelech
  • Carola Frydman
  • Dimitris Papanikolaou


We provide new evidence that a disruption in credit supply played a quantitatively significant role in the unprecedented contraction of employment during the Great Depression. To analyze the role of financing frictions in firms' employment decisions, we use a novel, hand-collected dataset of large industrial firms. Our identification strategy exploits preexisting variation in the need to raise external funds at a time when public bond markets essentially froze. Local bank failures inhibited firms' ability to substitute public debt for private debt, which exacerbated financial constraints. We estimate a large and negative causal effect of financing frictions on firm employment. Interpreting the estimated elasticities through the lens of a simple structural model, we find that the lack of access to credit may have accounted for 10% to 33% of the aggregate decline in employment of large firms between 1928 and 1933.

Suggested Citation

  • Efraim Benmelech & Carola Frydman & Dimitris Papanikolaou, 2017. "Financial Frictions and Employment during the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 23216, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23216
    Note: CF DAE EFG LS ME

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to the full text is generally limited to series subscribers, however if the top level domain of the client browser is in a developing country or transition economy free access is provided. More information about subscriptions and free access is available at Free access is also available to older working papers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Neil H. Jacoby & Raymond J. Saulnier, 1947. "Business Finance and Banking," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number jaco47-1, January.
    2. Neil H. Jacoby & Raymond J. Saulnier, 1947. "Appendix to "Business Finance and Banking"," NBER Chapters,in: Business Finance and Banking, pages 221-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alston Lee J. & Grove Wayne A. & Wheelock David C., 1994. "Why Do Banks Fail? Evidence from the 1920s," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 409-431, October.
    4. Price V. Fishback & Werner Troesken & Trevor Kollmann & Michael Haines & Paul W. Rhode & Melissa Thomasson, 2011. "Information and the Impact of Climate and Weather on Mortality Rates During the Great Depression," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present, pages 131-167 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Bäurle, Gregor & Lein, Sarah M. & Steiner, Elizabeth, 2018. "Employment Adjustment and Financial Constraints - Evidence from Firm-level Data," Working papers 2018/07, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • G01 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Financial Crises
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • G31 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Capital Budgeting; Fixed Investment and Inventory Studies
    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers
    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23216. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.