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Global Productivity Brief 2021

April 2021 | Publication

Higher labor productivity helps firms increase output more efficiently and at lower cost. As measured by output per worker, labor productivity fell globally by 0.9 percent in 2020, similar to the drop observed during the 2008-2009 Great Recession amid the global financial crisis. A more accurate measure of productivity accounts for the number of hours worked by each worker. Globally, output per hour worked, surged in 2020 to 4 percent almost symmetrically opposite of the drop in output per worker. The timing of the usual response of these two measures of productivity during recessions and recoveries diverged in 2020. A similar growth rate in global output per hour was last seen during the recovery from the Great Recession in 2010. Output per worker declined, as businesses retained their workforce, often with government support. Output per hour increased, as productive capacity, particularly in labor-intensive and low productive activities was reduced, often drastically to control the pandemic. As the global economic recovery continues in 2021, we expect to see the reverse picture of 2020, with a decline in global output per hour worked and an increase in output per worker as many workers return to jobs in sectors most affected by pandemic mitigation regulations, particularly in the services sectors. This report will look at these global trends in labor productivity in detail.

For more information and the underlying data series, please visit the Total Economy Database webpage.



Ataman Ozyildirim

Senior Director, Economics and Global Research Chair
The Conference Board


Klaas de Vries

The Conference Board

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