October 2016

Understanding the New Normal: The Role of Demographics

Etienne Gagnon, Benjamin K. Johannsen, and David Lopez-Salido


Since the onset of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has experienced low real GDP growth and low real interest rates, including for long maturities. We show that these developments were largely predictable by calibrating an overlapping-generation model with a rich demographic structure to observed and projected changes in U.S. population, family composition, life expectancy, and labor market activity. The model accounts for a 1 1/4-percentage point decline in both real GDP growth and the equilibrium real interest rate since 1980--essentially all of the permanent declines in those variables according to some estimates. The model also implies that these declines were especially pronounced over the past decade or so because of demographic factors most-directly associated with the baby boom and the passing of the information technology boom. Our results further suggest that real GDP growth and real interest rates will remain low in coming decades, consistent with the U.S economy having reached a "new normal."

Accessible materials (.zip)

Keywords: GDP growth, demographics, equilibrium real interest rate, new normal

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2016.080

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 19, 2020