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Skill Uncertainty, Skill Accumulation, and Occupational Choice

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  • Carl Sanders

    (Washington University in St. Louis)

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    Abstract

    Workers entering the labor market are uncertain about their skill set. Standard human capital theory assumes workers have perfect information about their skills. In this paper, I argue that skill uncertainty can explain one type of worker moves that standard human capital theory cannot: moves between jobs where they perform different kinds of tasks. I consider workers who have a multi-dimensional bundle of labor market skills and begin their careers uncertain about their skill levels. I construct a model that links learning about skills to the tasks performed in jobs: the more intensely a job uses a particular skill, the more the workers learn about their true level of that skill. The model also contains a skill accumulation motive: as workers use a skill they gain additional amounts of it. A simpliï¬Âed version of the model suggests that if skill uncertainty were the dominant force workers would switch between jobs that use skills in different ratios but similar total levels. On the other hand, if skill accumulation were the dominant force they would switch between jobs that use similar ratios of skills but higher total levels. Linking data on workers from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 with occupational characteristics from the US Department of Labor O*NET database, I show that worker mobility across different task mixes is common and I estimate the model parameters. The current results indicate that skill uncertainty explains approximately 30% of worker mobility across different task ratios.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2012 Meeting Papers with number 633.

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    Date of creation: 2012
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    Handle: RePEc:red:sed012:633

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    2. Topel, Robert H & Ward, Michael P, 1992. "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 439-79, May.
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    14. Michael P. Keane & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1995. "The career decisions of young men," Working Papers 559, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    15. David H. Autor & Michael J. Handel, 2009. "Putting Tasks to the Test: Human Capital, Job Tasks and Wages," NBER Working Papers 15116, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Fatih Guvenen & Anthony Smith, 2010. "Inferring Labor Income Risk from Economic Choices: An Indirect Inference Approach," NBER Working Papers 16327, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Theodore Papageorgiou, 2009. "Learning Your Comparative Advantages," 2009 Meeting Papers 1150, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    18. Katharine G. Abraham & James R. Spletzer, 2009. "New Evidence on the Returns to Job Skills," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 52-57, May.
    19. McCall, Brian P, 1990. "Occupational Matching: A Test of Sorts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(1), pages 45-69, February.
    20. Heckman, James J & Sedlacek, Guilherme, 1985. "Heterogeneity, Aggregation, and Market Wage Functions: An Empirical Model of Self-selection in the Labor Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(6), pages 1077-1125, December.
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