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Wage inequality, technology and trade: 21st century evidence

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  • Van Reenen, John

Abstract

This paper describes and explains some of the principal trends in the wage and skill distribution in recent decades. Increases in wage inequality started in the US and UK at the end of the 1970s, but are now widespread. A good fraction of this inequality trend is due to technology-related increases in the demand for skilled workers outstripping the growth of their supply. Since the early 1990s, labor markets have become more polarized with jobs in the middle third of the wage distribution shrinking and those in the bottom and top third rising. I argue that this is because computerization complements the most skilled tasks, but substitutes for routine tasks performed by middle wage occupations such as clerks, leaving the demand for the lowest skilled service tasks largely unaffected. Finally, I argue that technology is partly endogenous, for example it has been spurred by trade with China. Thus, trade does matter for changes in the labor market, but through a different mechanism than conventionally thought.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Labour Economics.

Volume (Year): 18 (2011)
Issue (Month): 6 ()
Pages: 730-741

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Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:18:y:2011:i:6:p:730-741

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/labeco

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Keywords: Wage inequality; Technology; Trade; Polarization;

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Cited by:
  1. Anwar, Sajid & Sun, Sizhong & Valadkhani, Abbas, 2013. "International outsourcing of skill intensive tasks and wage inequality," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 590-597.
  2. Alberto Dalmazzo & Antonio Accetturo & Guido de Blasio, 2012. "Skill Polarization in Local Labour Markets under Share-Altering Technical Change," ERSA conference papers ersa12p288, European Regional Science Association.
  3. Hynninen, Sanna-Mari & Ojala, Jari & Pehkonen, Jaakko, 2013. "Technological change and wage premiums: Historical evidence from linked employer–employee data," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 1-11.
  4. Pekkarinen, Tuomas, 2012. "Gender Differences in Education," IZA Discussion Papers 6390, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Semih Akcomak & Henri de Groot & Stefan Groot, 2013. "The impact of trade, offshoring and multinationals on job loss and job finding," CPB Discussion Paper 252, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
  6. Joël Hellier, 2012. "North-South Globalization and Inequality," Working Papers 273, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  7. Keiichi Kishi, 2013. "Dynamic analysis of wage inequality and creative destruction," Discussion Papers in Economics and Business 13-20, Osaka University, Graduate School of Economics and Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP).
  8. Nathalie Chusseau & Joël Hellier, 2012. "Globalization and Inequality: Where do we stand?," Working Papers 279, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.

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