August 1988

International Comparisons of Labor Costs in Manufacturing

Peter Hooper and Kathryn A. Larin


This paper presents a comparative study of the level of unit labor costs in the manufacturing sectors of several countries. The paper begins by surveying earlier estimates of relative productivity and unit labor cost levels and evaluating the various methodologies that have been used in previous studies. Empirical estimates of the levels of foreign unit labor costs in dollars are derived based on labor compensation translated into dollars at nominal exchange rates and labor productivity translated into dollars at purchasing power parity exchange rates. These estimates are compared with results obtained in earlier studies. The results show that the level of unit labor costs in the United States has fluctuated significantly in recent years, predominantly with fluctuations in the nominal exchange rate. As of early 1988, unit labor costs in the United States had dropped well below the average level of other industrialized countries but were significantly above the level in a representative newly industrialized country, Korea.

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Last Update: March 30, 2021