Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Taking Technology to Task: The Skill Content of Technological Change in Early Twentieth Century United States

Contents:

Author Info

  • Rowena Gray

    ()
    (University of Essex, UK)

Abstract

This paper presents a new picture of the labor market effects of technological change in pre-WWII United States. I show that, similar to the recent computerization episode, the electrification of the manufacturing sector led to a "hollowing out" of the skill distribution whereby workers in the middle of the distribution lost out to those at the extremes. To conduct this analysis, a new dataset detailing the task composition of occupations in the United States for the period 1880-1940 was constructed using information about the task content of over 4,000 occupations from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (1949). This unique data was used to measure the skill content of electrification in U.S. manufacturing. OLS estimates show that electrification increased the demand for clerical, numerical, planning and people skills relative to manual skills while simultaneously reducing relative demand for the dexterity-intensive jobs which comprised the middle of the skill distribution. Thus, early twentieth century technological change was unskill-biased for blue collar tasks but skill-biased on aggregate. These results are in line with the downward trend in wage differentials within U.S. manufacturing up to 1950. To overcome any threat to the exogeneity of the electricity measure, due for example to endogenous technological change, 2 instrumental variable strategies were developed. The first uses cross-state differences in the timing of adoption of state-level utility regulation while the second exploits differences in state-level geography that encouraged the development of hydro-power generation and thus made electricity cheaper. The results from these regressions support the main conclusions of the paper.

Download Info

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
File URL: http://ehes.org/EHES_No9.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by European Historical Economics Society (EHES) in its series Working Papers with number 0009.

as in new window
Length: 47 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0009

Contact details of provider:
Web page: http://www.ehes.org
More information through EDIRC

Related research

Keywords: Technological change; skill bias;

Other versions of this item:

Find related papers by JEL classification:

This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

References

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
as in new window
  1. Lawrence F. Katz & Robert A. Margo, 2013. "Technical Change and the Relative Demand for Skilled Labor: The United States in Historical Perspective," NBER Working Papers 18752, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1996. "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," NBER Working Papers 5657, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Atack, Jeremy & Bateman, Fred & Margo, Robert A., 2004. "Skill Intensity and Rising Wage Dispersion in Nineteenth-Century American Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(01), pages 172-192, March.
  4. 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.
  5. Hausman, William J. & Neufeld, John L., 2002. "The Market for Capital and the Origins of State Regulation of Electric Utilities in the United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(04), pages 1050-1073, December.
  6. Stephen Machin & John Van Reenen, 1998. "Technology and changes in skill structure: evidence from seven OECD countries," IFS Working Papers W98/04, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  7. Whaples, Robert, 1990. "Winning the Eight-Hour Day, 1909–1919," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(02), pages 393-406, June.
  8. Sandra E. Black & Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2010. "Explaining Women's Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women's Work," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 187-194, February.
  9. Giovanni Peri & Chad Sparber, 2009. "Task Specialization, Immigration and Wages," Working Papers 91, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  10. Acemoglu, D., 1996. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," Working papers 96-15, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  11. Sundstrom, William A., 1994. "The Color Line: Racial Norms and Discrimination in Urban Labor Markets, 1910–1950," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 382-396, June.
  12. Margo, Robert A, 1986. "Race and Human Capital: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1221-24, December.
  13. Marina Adshade & Ian Keay, 2010. "Technological and Organizational Change and the Employment of Women: Early Twentieth-Century Evidence from the Ohio Manufacturing Sector," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(1), pages 129-157.
  14. David Autor & Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1997. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," Working Papers 756, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  15. Kris J. Mitchener & Ian W. McLean, 1998. "U.S. Regional Growth and Convergence, 1880-1980," School of Economics Working Papers 1998-04, University of Adelaide, School of Economics.
  16. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 1990. "How Long Was the Workday in 1880?," NBER Historical Working Papers 0015, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Aimee Chin & Chinhui Juhn & Peter Thompson, 2006. "Technical Change and the Demand for Skills during the Second Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the Merchant Marine, 1891-1912," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 572-578, August.
  19. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2006. "The Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 189-194, May.
  20. Alexander James Field, 1980. "Industrialization and Skill Intensity: The Case of Massachusetts," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 15(2), pages 149-175.
  21. Christopher R. Knittel, 2006. "THE ADOPTION OF STATE ELECTRICITY REGULATION: THE ROLE OF INTEREST GROUPS -super-* ," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 201-222, 06.
  22. Peter L. Rousseau & Boyan Jovanovic, 2004. "General Purpose Technologies," 2004 Meeting Papers 103, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  23. Guy Michaels & Ferdinand Rauch & Stephen J. Redding, 2013. "Task specialization in U.S. cities from 1880-2000," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 48925, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  24. Barham, Tania & Lipscomb, Molly & Mobarak, Ahmed Mushfiq, 2011. "Development Effects of Electrification: Evidence from the Geologic Placement of Hydropower Plants in Brazil," CEPR Discussion Papers 8427, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  25. Harry Jerome, 1934. "Mechanization in Industry," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number jero34-1.
  26. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2001. "The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," NBER Working Papers 8337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

Citations

Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Electrification, skills and manufacturing
    by Chris Colvin in NEP-HIS blog on 2012-01-28 18:15:01
Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
as in new window

Cited by:
  1. Michaels, Guy & Rauch, Ferdinand & Redding, Stephen J., 2013. "Task Specialization in U.S. Cities from 1880-2000," CEPR Discussion Papers 9308, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Consoli,Davide & Vona,Francesco & Rentocchini,Francesco, 2014. "That was then, this is now: Skills and Routinization in the 2000s," INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) Working Paper Series 201306, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).

Lists

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

Statistics

Access and download statistics

Corrections

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0009. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Paul Sharp).

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.