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Real Wage Inequality

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  • Enrico Moretti

Abstract

A large literature has documented a significant increase in the difference between the wage of college graduates and high school graduates over the past 30 years. I show that from 1980 to 2000, college graduates have experienced relatively larger increases in cost of living, because they have increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas that are characterized by a high cost of housing. When I deflate nominal wages using a location-specific CPI, I find that the difference between the wage of college graduates and high school graduates is lower in real terms than in nominal terms and has grown less. At least 22% of the documented increase in college premium is accounted for by spatial differences in the cost of living. 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 of the labor and housing markets, 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, the 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 for 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 the higher cost of living. The evidence indicates that changes in the geographical location of different skill groups are mostly driven by changes in their relative demand. I conclude that the increase in well-being disparities between 1980 and 2000 is smaller than the increase in nominal wage disparities that has been the focus of the previous literature.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14370.

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Date of creation: Sep 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14370

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References

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  1. Gordon B. Dahl, 2002. "Mobility and the Return to Education: Testing a Roy Model with Multiple Markets," RCER Working Papers 488, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  2. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
  3. Enrico Moretti, 2002. "Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," NBER Working Papers 9108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1997. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," NBER Working Papers 5956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. 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.
  7. Krupka, Douglas J., 2007. "Location-Specific Human Capital, Location Choice and Amenity Demand," IZA Discussion Papers 2987, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Bound, John & Johnson, George, 1992. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the 1980's: An Evaluation of Alternative Explanations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 371-92, June.
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  10. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects, Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 461-498, June.
  11. James Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explanations With A Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings With Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(1), pages 1-58, January.
  12. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, 2001. "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," NBER Working Papers 8598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. John Bound & Harry J. Holzer, 1996. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," NBER Working Papers 5685, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Post-Secondary Education and Increasing Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 12077, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Yuichi Kitamura & William Johnson & Derek Neal, 2000. "Evaluating a Simple Method for Estimating Black-White Gaps in Median Wages," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 339-343, May.
  16. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2005. "Where did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," CEPR Discussion Papers 5419, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  17. Thomas Lemieux, 2007. "The Changing Nature of Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 13523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise in American Inequality: A Survey," CEPR Discussion Papers 6817, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  19. 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.
  20. David Card & Thomas Lemieux, 2001. "Can Falling Supply Explain The Rising Return To College For Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 705-746, May.
  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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  23. Ian Dew-Becker & Robert J. Gordon, 2005. "Where Did Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 67-150.
  24. Michael Greenstone & Richard Hornbeck & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "Identifying Agglomeration Spillovers: Evidence from Million Dollar Plants," NBER Working Papers 13833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Veronica Guerrieri & Daniel Hartley & Erik Hurst, 2012. "Within-City Variation in Urban Decline: The Case of Detroit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 120-26, May.
  2. 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.
  3. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2014. "Spatial changes in labour market inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 121-138.
  4. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb, 2009. "The Wealth of Cities: Agglomeration Economies and Spatial Equilibrium in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(4), pages 983-1028, December.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2013. "Spatial Changes in Labour Market Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 7600, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Thomas Kemeny, 2013. "Immigrant Diversity and Economic Development in Cities: A Critical Review," SERC Discussion Papers 0149, Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE.

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