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Was Mechanization De-Skilling? The Origins of Task-Biased Technical Change

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  • James Bessen

    ()
    (Research on Innovation, Boston University School of Law, Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard))

Abstract

Did nineteenth century technology reduce demand for skilled workers in contrast to modern technology? I obtain direct evidence on human capital investments and the returns to skill by using micro-data on individual weavers and an engineering production function. Weavers learned substantially on the job. While mechanization eliminated some tasks and the associated skills, it increased returns to skill on the remaining tasks. Technical change was task-biased, much as with computer technology. As more tasks were automated, weavers’ human capital increased substantially. Although technology increased the demand for skill like today, weavers’ wages eventually increased and inequality decreased, contrary to current trends.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Research on Innovation in its series Working Papers with number 1101.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:roi:wpaper:1101

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Web page: http://www.researchoninnovation.org

Related research

Keywords: skill-biased technical change; technology; mechanization; human capital; wage inequality; learning-by-doing;

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Cited by:
  1. Autor, David, 2013. "The "Task Approach" to Labor Markets: An Overview," IZA Discussion Papers 7178, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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