You are here

Working Paper Series no. 549: GDP per capita in advanced countries over the 20th century


This study presents a GDP per capita level and growth comparison across 17 main advanced countries and over the 1890-2013 long period. It proposes also a comparison of the level and growth of the main components of GDP per capita through an accounting breakdown and runs Philips-Sul (2007) convergence tests over GDP per capita and its main components. These components are total factor productivity, capital intensity (capital stock per hours worked), working time and employment rate. Over the whole period, standards of living as measured by GDP per capita experienced a very marked increase in advanced countries, especially because of the surge in Total Factor Productivity (TFP) and in capital intensity.
The main results of the study are the following: i) All countries experienced at least one big wave of GDP per capita growth during the 20th Century, but of different sizes and in a staggered manner; ii) Almost all countries have suffered from a significant decline in GDP per capita growth during the last decades of the period; iii) The GDP per capita leadership changed among large countries over the period, from the UK until WWI to the US since WWII; iv) There is an overall convergence process among advanced countries, mainly after WWII, relying mostly on capital intensity convergence and then on TFP convergence, while evolutions in hours worked and even more employment rates are more disparate; v) But this convergence process is not continuous and was particularly scattered since 1990, as the convergence of the EA, the UK and Japan to the US GDP per capita level stopped at a large distance, with reforming or structurally flexible countries accelerating thanks to the Information and Communication Technology shock, while some countries such as Japan lingered in crisis; vi) Employment rates and hours worked did not contribute to the overall convergence process, with club convergence very often appearing for these variables among European countries on one side and Anglo-Saxon countries on the other. Dynamics were especially divergent between these two groups since 1974, as opposite labor policies were implemented.

Antonin Bergeaud, Gilbert Cette and Rémy Lecat
April 2015

Classification JEL : E20, N10, O47

Keywords : GDP per capita, Productivity, convergence, technological change, global history

Download the PDF version of this document

Working Paper Series no. 549: GDP per capita in advanced countries over the 20th century
  • Published on 04/30/2015
  • EN
  • PDF (2.13 MB)
Download (EN)

Updated on: 06/12/2018 10:56