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The Division of Labour, Coordination, and the Demand for Information Processing

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  • Michaels, Guy

Abstract

Since Adam Smith's time, the division of labour in production has increased significantly, while information processing has become an important part of work. This paper examines whether the need to coordinate an increasingly complex division of labour has raised the demand for clerical office workers, who process information that is used to coordinate production. In order to examine this question empirically, I introduce a measure of the complexity of an industry's division of labour that uses the Herfindahl index of occupations it employs, excluding clerks and managers. Using US data I find that throughout the 20th century more complex industries employed relatively more clerks, and recent Mexican data shows a similar relationship. The relative complexity of industries is persistent over time and correlated across these two countries. I further document the relationship between complexity and the employment of clerks using an early information technology (IT) revolution that took place around 1900, when telephones, typewriters, and improved filing techniques were introduced. This IT revolution raised the demand for clerks in all manufacturing industries, but significantly more so in industries with a more complex division of labour. Interestingly, recent reductions in the price of IT have enabled firms to substitute computers for clerks, and I find that more complex industries have substituted clerks more rapidly.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6358.

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Date of creation: Jun 2007
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6358

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Keywords: Division of Labour; Information Processing; Organization of Production.; Technological Change;

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  1. David Autor & Frank Levy & Richard Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
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  4. Acemoglu, Daron, 2002. "Directed Technical Change," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 69(4), pages 781-809, October.
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  9. Goldin, Claudia, 1998. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century," Scholarly Articles 2664307, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  12. Garicano, Luis & Hubbard, Thomas, 2003. "Specialization, Firms and Markets: The division of Labour Between and Within Law Firms," CEPR Discussion Papers 3699, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  13. William D. Nordhaus, 2001. "The Progress of Computing," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1324, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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Cited by:
  1. Ariell Reshef, 2008. "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation," 2008 Meeting Papers 235, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  2. Thomas Philippon & Ariell Reshef, 2009. "Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006," NBER Working Papers 14644, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Giuseppe Berlingieri, 2013. "Outsourcing and the rise in services," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51532, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  4. Ariell Reshef, 2012. "Online Appendix to "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation"," Technical Appendices 11-241, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  5. POSCHKE, Markus, 2011. "The Firm Size Distribution across Countries and Skill-Biased Change in Entrepreneurial Technology," Cahiers de recherche 08-2011, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.

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