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The "Task Approach" to Labor Markets: An Overview

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  • Autor, David

    ()
    (MIT)

Abstract

An emerging literature argues that changes in the allocation of workplace "tasks" between capital and labor, and between domestic and foreign workers, has altered the structure of labor demand in industrialized countries and fostered employment polarization – that is, rising employment in the highest and lowest paid occupations. Analyzing this phenomenon within the canonical production function framework is challenging, however, because the assignment of tasks to labor and capital in the canonical model is essentially static. This essay sketches an alternative model of the assignment of skills to tasks based upon comparative advantage, reviews key conceptual and practical challenges that researchers face in bringing the "task approach" to the data, and cautions against two common pitfalls that pervade the growing task literature. I conclude with a cautiously optimistic forecast for the potential of the task approach to illuminate the interactions among skill supplies, technological capabilities, and trade and offshoring opportunities, in shaping the aggregate demand for skills, the assignment of skills to tasks, and the evolution of wages.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 7178.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2013
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal for Labour Market Research, February 2013
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7178

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Keywords: human capital; Roy model; job tasks; technological change; skill demands; occupational choice;

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References

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  1. Black, Sandra E. & Spitz-Oener, Alexandra, 2007. "Explaining Women's Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women's Work," ZEW Discussion Papers, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research 07-033, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  2. Neal, Derek, 1999. "The Complexity of Job Mobility among Young Men," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(2), pages 237-61, April.
  3. Alan S. Blinder & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Alternative Measures of Offshorability: A Survey Approach," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages S97 - S128.
  4. Jonathan Vogel & Arnaud Costinot, 2008. "Matching and Inequality in the World Economy," 2008 Meeting Papers 879, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  5. Dinardo, J.E. & Pischke, J.S., 1996. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," Working papers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics 96-12, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. Firpo, Sergio & Fortin, Nicole M. & Lemieux, Thomas, 2011. "Occupational Tasks and Changes in the Wage Structure," IZA Discussion Papers 5542, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Gathmann, Christina & Schönberg, Uta, 2007. "How General Is Human Capital? A Task-Based Approach," IZA Discussion Papers 3067, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. James Bessen, 2011. "Was Mechanization De-Skilling? The Origins of Task-Biased Technical Change," Working Papers, Research on Innovation 1101, Research on Innovation.
  9. Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2006. "Technical Change, Job Tasks, and Rising Educational Demands: Looking outside the Wage Structure," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 235-270, April.
  10. Antonczyk, Dirk & DeLeire, Thomas C. & Fitzenberger, Bernd, 2010. "Polarization and Rising Wage Inequality: Comparing the U.S. and Germany," IZA Discussion Papers 4842, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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Cited by:
  1. Wadensjö, Eskil, 2013. "Labor Market Transparency," IZA Discussion Papers 7658, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. João Amador & Sónia Cabral, 2014. "Global Value Chains: Surveying Drivers, Measures and Impacts," Working Papers, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department w201403, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department.
  3. 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, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) 201306, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).
  4. Salverda, Wiemer & Checchi, Daniele, 2014. "Labour-Market Institutions and the Dispersion of Wage Earnings," IZA Discussion Papers 8220, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Kok, Suzanne & ter Weel, Bas, 2014. "Cities, Tasks and Skills," IZA Discussion Papers 8053, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Lichter, Andreas & Peichl, Andreas & Siegloch, Sebastian, 2013. "Exporting and Labor Demand: Micro-Level Evidence from Germany," IZA Discussion Papers 7494, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Suzanne Kok, 2013. "Town and city jobs: Your job is different in another location," CPB Discussion Paper 246, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
  8. Paul Gaggl & Sylvia Kaufmann, 2014. "The Cyclical Component of Labor Market Polarization and Jobless Recoveries in the US," Working Papers 14.03, Swiss National Bank, Study Center Gerzensee.
  9. Antoni, Manfred & Janser, Markus & Lehmer, Florian, 2014. "The hidden winners of renewable energy promotion : insights into sector-specific wage differentials," IAB Discussion Paper 201412, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].
  10. Suzanne Kok & Bas ter Weel, 2014. "Cities, Tasks and Skills," CPB Discussion Paper 269, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.

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