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Computers and the Wage Structure

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  • Michael J. Handel

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)

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    Abstract

    A leading explanation for the rapid growth in U.S. wage inequality in the last twenty years, consistent with both human capital and postindustrial theories, is that advanced technology has increased job skill requirements and reduced the demand for less-skilled workers. Krueger's study (1993) showing a wage premium associated with using computers at work is one of the few that seems to provide direct supportive evidence. In this paper I use previously unexamined data to suggest that measured returns to computer use are upwardly biased. In addition, I find that most of the growth of inequality since 1979 occurred in the early 1980s, which is inconsistent with a primary role for computers. Finally, computer use at work had equalizing impacts on the gender wage gap and elsewhere in the wage distribution, as well as disequalizing impacts on the wage gaps between education groups. When the contribution of computer use to all components of the variance of wages is taken into account, computers seem to have had a net equalizing impact in the period Krueger studied. This casts significant doubt on this technology-based explanation of the growth in wage inequality.

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    File URL: http://128.118.178.162/eps/mac/papers/0004/0004034.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Macroeconomics with number 0004034.

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    Length: 37 pages
    Date of creation: 11 Oct 2000
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:0004034

    Note: Type of Document - Adobe Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 37; figures: included
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    Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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    1. David Autor & Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1997. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," Working Papers 756, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    2. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
    3. Dunne, Timothy & Haltiwanger, John & Troske, Kenneth R., 1997. "Technology and jobs: secular changes and cyclical dynamics," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 107-178, June.
    4. Dinardo, J.E. & Pischke, J.S., 1996. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," Working papers 96-12, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    5. Solon, Gary & Barsky, Robert & Parker, Jonathan A, 1994. "Measuring the Cyclicality of Real Wages: How Important Is Composition Bias?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 1-25, February.
    6. repec:fth:prinin:377 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    8. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
    9. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Frank Levy, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 5076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 1997. "Institutional Changes and Rising Wage Inequality: Is There a Linkage?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 75-96, Spring.
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