Comparative study of activity-based construction labor productivity in the united states and china

Zhigang Shen, Wayne Jensen, Charles Berryman, Yimin Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This research compares construction labor productivity (CLP) of the United States with its Chinese counterpart at the activity level to evaluate productivity differences between the two countries from an operational perspective. Supplementing other comparative construction studies measuring productivity by output value per person, this research examined CLP-measured by physical quantity installed per labor hour-based upon published national average productivity data. Sampled activities included earthwork, concrete, masonry, structural steel, waterproofing, and interior finishes. Paired comparisons (United States-China) of these selected activities were then analyzed and evaluated. The source of the U.S. labor productivity data was RSMeans Building Construction Cost Data, which was cross validated by data from the Walker's Building Estimator's Reference Book. The source of Chinese labor productivity data was mainly the Beijing construction quota, which was cross validated by Chinese quotas from several other cities and provinces in China. In terms of hourly output, significant differences were observed in many operational categories. To test the hypothesis that the labor-equipment compositions of the Chinese construction crews contributed to the labor-productivity gaps, a labor intensive factor (LIF) was introduced to measure the intensity of labor usage in a construction activity. Statistical analysis indicated that modest to strong correlations exist between the productivity differences and LIFs of the sampled activities. Chinese CLP significantly lags behind its U.S. counterpart in equipment-intensive construction activities. Smaller CLP gaps or comparable CLPs between the two countries were observed for labor-intensive activities. According to these findings, construction equipment efficiency appears to be a major factor contributing to the productivity difference between the two countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Management in Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • China
  • Comparative studies
  • Comparison
  • Construction
  • Construction management
  • Labor
  • Labor productivity
  • Linear regression analysis
  • Productivity
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Regression analysis
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial relations
  • Engineering(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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