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Real Wage Inequality

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  • Moretti, Enrico

    ()
    (University of California, Berkeley)

Abstract

A large literature has documented a significant increase in the return to college over the past 30 years. This increase is typically measured using nominal wages. I show that from 1980 to 2000, college graduates have increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas that are characterized by a high cost of housing. This implies that college graduates are increasingly exposed to a high cost of living and that the relative increase in their real wage may be smaller than the relative increase in their nominal wage. To measure the college premium in real terms, I deflate nominal wages using a new CPI that allows for changes in the cost of housing to vary across metropolitan areas and education groups. I find that half of the documented increase in the return to college between 1980 and 2000 disappears when I use real wages. This finding does not appear to be driven by differences in housing quality and is robust to a number of alternative specifications. The implications of this finding for changes in well-being inequality depend on why college graduates sort into expensive cities. Using a simple general equilibrium model, I consider two alternative explanations. First, it is possible that the relative supply of college graduates increases in expensive cities because college graduates are increasingly attracted by amenities located in those cities. In this case, higher cost of housing reflects consumption of desirable local amenities, and there may still be a significant increase in well-being inequality even if the increase in real wage inequality is limited. Alternatively, it is possible that the relative demand of college graduates increases in expensive cities due to shifts in the relative productivity of skilled labor. In this case, the relative increase in skilled workers' standard of living is offset by higher cost of living. The empirical evidence indicates that relative demand shifts are more important than relative supply shifts, suggesting that the increase in well-being inequality between 1980 and 2000 is smaller than the increase in nominal wage inequality.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3706.

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Length: 48 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3706

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Keywords: return to college; general equilibrium; cost of living;

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References

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  1. Ian Dew-Becker & Robert J. Gordon, 2005. "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," NBER Working Papers 11842, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  9. Bound, John & Holzer, Harry J, 2000. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 20-54, January.
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  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..
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  16. Jeff Grogger & Eric Eide, 1995. "Changes in College Skills and the Rise in the College Wage Premium," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 280-310.
  17. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2007. "Long-Run Changes in the U.S. Wage Structure: Narrowing, Widening, Polarizing," NBER Working Papers 13568, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Robert J. Gordon & Ian Dew-Becker, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise of American Inequality: A Survey," NBER Working Papers 13982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Michael Greenstone & Richard Hornbeck & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "Identifying Agglomeration Spillovers: Evidence from Million Dollar Plants," Working Paper Series 36-08, The Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis, revised Jan 2008.
  20. Moretti, Enrico, 2004. "Estimating the social return to higher education: evidence from longitudinal and repeated cross-sectional data," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 175-212.
  21. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1990. "A Genral Model of Dynamic Labor Demand," NBER Working Papers 3356, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Thomas Kemeny, 2013. "Immigrant Diversity and Economic Development in Cities: A Critical Review," SERC Discussion Papers 0149, Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE.
  2. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2013. "Spatial Changes in Labour Market Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 7600, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb, 2009. "The Wealth of Cities: Agglomeration Economies and Spatial Equilibrium in the United States," NBER Working Papers 14806, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Paul Beaudry & David A. Green & Benjamin M. Sand, 2013. "Spatial Equilibrium with Unemployment and Wage Bargaining: Theory and Estimation," NBER Working Papers 19118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Monaco, Kristen & Habermalz, Steffen, 2011. "Wage Inequality of U.S. Truck Drivers," IZA Discussion Papers 5444, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2014. "Spatial changes in labour market inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 121-138.
  7. Robert J. Gordon, 2009. "Misperceptions About the Magnitude and Timing of Changes in American Income Inequality," NBER Working Papers 15351, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Suzanne Kok & Bas ter Weel, 2014. "Cities, Tasks and Skills," CPB Discussion Paper 269, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
  9. Veronica Guerrieri & Daniel Hartley & Erik Hurst, 2012. "Within-city variation in urban decline: the case of Detroit," Working Paper 1205, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  10. Andrea Brandolini & Alfonso Rosolia & Roberto Torrini, 2011. "The distribution of employees’ labour earnings in the European Union: Data, concepts and first results," Working Papers 198, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  11. Shihe Fu & Stephen Ross, 2010. "Wage Premia in Employment Clusters: How Important is Worker Heterogeneity?," Working Papers 2011-027, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  12. Beach, Charles M., 2014. "What Has Happened to Middle-Class Earnings? Distributional Shifts in Earnings in Canada, 1970-2005," CLSSRN working papers clsrn_admin-2014-13, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 26 Mar 2014.
  13. Kok, Suzanne & ter Weel, Bas, 2014. "Cities, Tasks and Skills," IZA Discussion Papers 8053, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Leonardi, Marco, 2010. "The Effect of Product Demand on Inequality: Evidence from the US and the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 5011, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. repec:wyi:journl:002155 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Cinzia, Rienzo, 2010. "Real Wages, Wage Inequality and the Regional Cost-of-living in the UK," MPRA Paper 36390, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Oct 2010.

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