Shareholder Power and the Decline of Labor
58 Pages Posted: 20 May 2022 Last revised: 29 May 2022
Date Written: May 18, 2022
Shareholder power in the US grew over recent decades due to a steep rise in concentrated institutional ownership. Using establishment-level data from the US Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Business Database for 1982-2015, this paper examines the impact of increases in concentrated institutional ownership on employment, wages, shareholder returns, and labor productivity. Consistent with theory of the firm based on conflicts of interests between shareholders and stakeholders, we find that establishments of firms that experience an increase in ownership by larger and more concentrated institutional shareholders have lower employment and wages. This result holds in both panel regressions with establishment fixed effects and a difference-in-differences design that exploits large increases in concentrated institutional ownership, and is robust to controls for industry and local shocks. The result is more pronounced in industries where labor is relatively less unionized, in more monopsonistic local labor markets, and for dedicated and activist institutional shareholders. The labor losses are accompanied by higher shareholder returns but no improvements in labor productivity, suggesting that shareholder power mainly reallocates rents away from workers. Our results imply that the rise in concentrated institutional ownership could explain about a quarter of the secular decline in the aggregate labor share.
Keywords: Shareholder power; institutional ownership; concentration; employment; payroll
JEL Classification: G23, G32, J23, J31, E24, E25
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