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Specialization and the skill premium in the 20th century

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  • Matthew F. Mitchell

Abstract

The skill premium fell substantially in the first part of the 20th century, and then rose at the end of the century. I argue that these changes are connected to the organization of production. When production is organized into large plants, jobs become routinized, favoring less skilled workers. Building on the notion that numerically controlled machines made capital more “flexible” at the end of the century, the model allows for changes in the ability of capital to do a wide variety of tasks. When calibrated to data on the distribution of plant sizes, the model can account for between half and two-thirds of the movement in the skill premium over the century. It is also in accord with a variety of industry level evidence.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Staff Report with number 290.

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Date of creation: 2001
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:290

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Keywords: Technological innovations;

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References

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  1. Markus Mobius & Raphael Schoenle, 2006. "The Evolution of Work," NBER Working Papers 12694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gort, M. & Greenwood, J. & Rupert, P., 1998. "Measuring the Rate of Technological Progress in Structures," RCER Working Papers 457, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  3. Griliches, Zvi, 1969. "Capital-Skill Complementarity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(4), pages 465-68, November.
  4. Timothy Dunne & John Haltiwanger & Lucia Foster, 2000. "Wage and Productivity Dispersion in U.S. Manufacturing: The Role of Computer Investment," NBER Working Papers 7465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2001. "Is the Stock Market Overvalued?," NBER Working Papers 8077, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins Of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732, August.
  7. Francesco Caselli, 1999. "Technological Revolutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 78-102, March.
  8. David Thesmar & Mathias Thoenig, 2000. "Creative Destruction And Firm Organization Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1201-1237, November.
  9. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & JosÈ-Victor RÌos-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 2000. "Capital-Skill Complementarity and Inequality: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(5), pages 1029-1054, September.
  10. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1990. "The Economics of Modern Manufacturing: Technology, Strategy, and Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 511-28, June.
  11. Brown, Charles & Medoff, James, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1027-59, October.
  12. Acemoglu, Daron, 1997. "Why Do New Technologies Complement Skills? Directed Technical Change and Wage Inequality," CEPR Discussion Papers 1707, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  13. Ingram, Beth F. & Neumann, George R., 2006. "The returns to skill," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 35-59, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Hornstein, Andreas & Krusell, Per & Violante, Giovanni L, 2005. "The Effects of Technical Change on Labour Market Inequalities," CEPR Discussion Papers 5025, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Richard Walker, 2005. "Superstars and renaissance men: specialization, market size and the income distribution," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19880, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  3. Yoshinori Kurokawa, 2011. "Variety-skill complementarity: a simple resolution of the trade-wage inequality anomaly," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 46(2), pages 297-325, February.
  4. Thomas J. Holmes & Matthew F. Mitchell, 2003. "A Theory of Factor Allocation and Plant Size," NBER Working Papers 10079, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. Volker Meier & Ioana Cosmina Schiopu, 2012. "Optimal Higher Education Enrollment and Productivity Externalities in a Two-Sector Model," CESifo Working Paper Series 3889, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. Kurokawa, Yoshinori, 2010. "Fixed cost, number of firms, and skill premium: An alternative source for rising wage inequality," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 141-144, August.
  8. Sushanta K. Mallick & Ricardo M. Sousa, 2012. "Is Technology Factor-Neutral? Evidence from the US Manufacturing Sector," NIPE Working Papers 26/2012, NIPE - Universidade do Minho.
  9. Sandén, Klas, 2007. "Shutdown Threats, Firm Fragmentation and the Skill Premium," Working Papers in Economics 265, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  10. Kurokawa, Yoshinori, 2006. "Trade and Variety-Skill Complementarity: A Simple Trade-Based Resolution of Wage Inequality Anomaly," MPRA Paper 14011, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  11. Gangopadhyay, Kausik & Nishimura, Atsushi & Pal, Rupayan, 2012. "Co-movement of skill premium and stock prices," Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai Working Papers 2012-024, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.
  12. Richard Walker, 2005. "Superstars and Renaissance Men: Specialization, Market Size and the Income Distribution," CEP Discussion Papers dp0707, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.

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