Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Why Wages Don't Fall during a Recession

Why Wages Don't Fall during a Recession

Truman F. Bewley

ISBN 9780674009431

Publication date: 09/30/2002

A deep question in economics is why wages and salaries don't fall during recessions. This is not true of other prices, which adjust relatively quickly to reflect changes in demand and supply. Although economists have posited many theories to account for wage rigidity, none is satisfactory. Eschewing "top-down" theorizing, Truman Bewley explored the puzzle by interviewing—during the recession of the early 1990s—over three hundred business executives and labor leaders as well as professional recruiters and advisors to the unemployed.

By taking this approach, gaining the confidence of his interlocutors and asking them detailed questions in a nonstructured way, he was able to uncover empirically the circumstances that give rise to wage rigidity. He found that the executives were averse to cutting wages of either current employees or new hires, even during the economic downturn when demand for their products fell sharply. They believed that cutting wages would hurt morale, which they felt was critical in gaining the cooperation of their employees and in convincing them to internalize the managers' objectives for the company. Bewley's findings contradict most theories of wage rigidity and provide fascinating insights into the problems businesses face that prevent labor markets from clearing.

Praise

  • In Why Wages Don't Fall During A Recession, [Truman Bewley] tackles one of the oldest, and most controversial, puzzles in economics: why nominal wages rarely fall (and real wages do not fall enough) when unemployment is high. But he does so in a novel way, through interviews with over 300 businessmen, union leaders, job recruiters and unemployment counsellors in the north-eastern United States during the early 1990s recession...Mr. Bewley concludes that employers resist pay cuts largely because the savings from lower wages are usually outweighed by the cost of denting workers' morale: pay cuts hit workers‚ standard of living and lower their self-esteem. Falling morale raises staff turnover and reduces productivity...Mr. Bewley's theory has some interesting implications...[and] has a ring of truth to it.

    —The Economist

Author

  • Truman F. Bewley is Alfred Cowles Professor of Economics at Yale University.

Book Details

  • 544 pages
  • 5-15/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author

Recommendations