Broad-Based Employee Stock Ownership and Profit Sharing: History, Evidence, and Policy Implications - CLEO Skip to main content



The purpose of this paper is to review the historical background for broad-based ownership in the USA, the development of forms of employee ownership and profit sharing in the USA, the research literature on employee ownership and profit sharing and related employee participation, the development of policy and options for new policies.


It is a literature review.


There are four reasons to be interested in employee stock ownership and profit sharing today: first, employee share ownership and profit sharing can increase worker pay and wealth and broaden the overall distribution of income and wealth, a key ingredient for a successful democracy. To be a tool for reducing inequality, employee stock ownership and profit sharing must be spread more widely and meaningfully than it is today. Second, employee share ownership and profit sharing provide incentives for more effort, cooperation, information sharing and innovation that can improve workplace performance and company productivity. Third, employee share ownership and profit sharing can save jobs by enhancing firm survival and employment stability, with wider economic benefits that come from decreasing unemployment. Fourth, employee share ownership and profit sharing can create more harmonious workplaces with greater corporate transparency and increased worker involvement in their work lives through access to information and participation in workplace decisions.

Research limitations/implications

Growth has been extraordinarily sluggish in the recovery from the Great Recession and has weakened in advanced countries over a longer period, leading some analysts to believe that the authors have entered a new economic era of small to modest growth. This may turn out to be true, which will increase the importance of growth-enhancing policies. The evidence that firms with employee stock ownership and/or profit-sharing perform better than others suggests that policies that extend ownership would boost the country’s lagging growth rate. The evidence that employee share ownership firms preserve jobs and survive recessions better than others suggests that policies that extend ownership could help stabilize the economy when the next recession comes down the pike.

Practical implications

Because there may be informational or institutional barriers about the benefits of ownership and sharing and the ways firms can introduce such programs that government can help overcome. Government has often played a role in promoting performance-enhancing work practices to enhance overall economy-wide outcomes from higher productivity and innovation, such as the long history of agricultural extension services (since 1887) to spread information on best practices in farming, and employer education on safety practices conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Social implications

Because of the “externalities” – effects that extend beyond the firm and its members – that greater ownership/profit sharing can bring us. If employee ownership and profit sharing lead to fewer layoffs and firm closures, this can reduce recession-created drops in consumer purchasing power and aggregate demand; government expenditures on unemployment compensation and other forms of support; decreased tax base for supporting schools and infrastructure; and potentially harmful social and personal effects, such as marital breakups and alcohol abuse. Apart from unemployment, more broadly shared prosperity and lower inequality may also have wider benefits for macroeconomic growth, stability and societal outcomes, as described by a number of social scientists. To the extent the ownership and profit sharing is a public good, a nudge in policy to consider the idea makes sense.


Because it is hard to find policy options that are as bipartisan as the shares policy. In The Citizens’ Share, and in other articles and venues, the authors lay out the areas in which there is evidence or logic for in-depth development of, and experimentation with, several broad policy directions, with the details to be worked out by members of Congress based on their deliberations.