The Cyclical Nature of the Productivity Distribution

69 Pages Posted: 31 May 2011 Last revised: 23 Jan 2015

See all articles by Matthias Kehrig

Matthias Kehrig

Duke University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: January 23, 2015


Using plant-level data, I show that the dispersion of total factor productivity in U.S. durable manufacturing is greater in recessions than in booms. This cyclical property of productivity dispersion is much less pronounced in non-durable manufacturing. In durables, this phenomenon primarily reflects a relatively higher share of unproductive firms in a recession. In order to interpret these findings, I construct a business cycle model where production in durables requires a fixed input. In a boom, when the market price of this fixed input is high, only more productive firms enter and only more productive incumbents survive, which results in a more compressed productivity distribution. The resulting higher average productivity in durables endogenously translates into a lower average relative price of durables. Additionally, my model is consistent with the following business cycle facts: procyclical entry, procyclical aggregate total factor productivity, more procyclicality in durable than non-durable output, procyclical employment and countercyclicality in the relative price of durables and the cross section of stock returns.

Keywords: productivity, plant-level risk, entry and exit, business cycles, manufacturing, plant-level data

JEL Classification: D24, E32, L11, L25, L60

Suggested Citation

Kehrig, Matthias, The Cyclical Nature of the Productivity Distribution (January 23, 2015). Earlier version: US Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies Paper No. CES-WP-11-15, Available at SSRN: or

Matthias Kehrig (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

237 Social Sciences
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0097
United States


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

United Kingdom

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