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Understanding the Evolution of the U.S. Wage Distribution: A Theoretical Analysis

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  • Fatih Guvenen
  • Burhanettin Kuruscu

Abstract

In this paper we present an analytically tractable overlapping generations model of human capital accumulation, and study its implications for the evolution of the U.S. wage distribution from 1970 to 2000. The key feature of the model, and the only source of heterogeneity, is that individuals differ in their ability to accumulate human capital. Therefore, wage inequality results only from differences in human capital accumulation. We examine the response of this model to skill-biased technical change (SBTC) theoretically. We show that in response to SBTC, the model generates behavior consistent with several features of the U.S. data including (i) a rise in overall wage inequality both in the short run and long run, (ii) an initial fall in the education premium followed by a strong recovery, leading to a higher premium in the long run, (iii) the fact that most of this fall and rise takes place among younger workers, (iv) a rise in within-group inequality, (v) stagnation in median wage growth (and a slowdown in aggregate labor productivity), and (vi) a rise in consumption inequality that is much smaller than the rise in wage inequality. These results suggest that the heterogeneity in the ability to accumulate human capital is an important feature for understanding the effects of SBTC, and interpreting the transformation that the U.S. economy has gone through since the 1970's.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13096.

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Date of creation: May 2007
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13096

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Cited by:
  1. Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2009. "A quantitative analysis of the evolution of the U.S. wage distribution, 1970-2000," Staff Report 427, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  2. Thierry Magnac & Sebastien Roux & Nicolas Pistolesi, 2013. "Post schooling human capital investments and the life cycle variance of earnings," 2013 Meeting Papers 426, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  3. Alexis Anagnostopoulos & Orhan Erem Atesagaoglu & Eva Carceles-Poveda, 2012. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Homeownership," Department of Economics Working Papers 12-09, Stony Brook University, Department of Economics.
  4. Andrea Canidio, 2012. "The Determinants of Long-Run Inequality," CEU Working Papers 2012_10, Department of Economics, Central European University, revised 20 Mar 2012.

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