The audit fees literature contains little by way of systematic evidence on long‐term trends in audit fees. This study analyzes trends in audit fees from 1980 through 1997, adjusting for changes in client size, complexity, and risk.

The sample is restricted to clients of Big 6 firms that voluntarily disclosed audit fees in the period 1980–1997. Evidence is found that audit fees increased in the 1980s but stayed flat in the 1990s. Most important, a significant increase is noted in 1988, the year in which the Auditing Standards Board issued the “expectation gap” standards. These results hold even after controlling for wage increases in accounting firms, suggesting an expansion of auditing effort. There is no evidence that auditors obtain any price premium from industry specialization. The 1989 Big 8 mergers appear to have had a short‐term, but not long‐term, effect on fees. Finally, the magnitude of the audit fee model coefficient for accounts receivable and inventory has declined over the period, presumably due to productivity improvements.

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