Why Has the Cyclicality of Productivity Changed? What Does It Mean?


J. Christina Wang

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2016-07 | April 1, 2016

U.S. labor and total factor productivity have historically been procyclical—rising in booms and falling in recessions. After the mid-1980s, however, TFP became much less procyclical with respect to hours while labor productivity turned strongly countercyclical. We find that the key empirical “fact” driving these changes is reduced variation in factor utilization—conceptually, the workweek of capital and labor effort. We discuss a range of theories that seek to explain the changes in productivity’s cyclicality. Increased flexibility, changes in the structure of the economy, and shifts in relative variances of technology and “demand” shocks appear to play key roles.

Article Citation

Wang, J. Christina, and John G. Fernald. 2016. “Why Has the Cyclicality of Productivity Changed? What Does It Mean?,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2016-07. Available at https://doi.org/10.24148/wp2016-07

About the Author
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John G. Fernald is a senior research advisor in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and a professor of economics at INSEAD. Learn more about John G. Fernald