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Brain versus brawn: the realization of women's comparative advantage

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  • Michelle Rendall

Abstract

This paper examines the evolution of women in the labor market, specifically their post-World War II employment, wages and education, by assessing the role of technology changing labor demand requirements, as a driving force. The empirical results in the United Sates data show that job requirements have shifted from more physical to more intellectual attributes. Moreover, women have always worked in occupations with relatively low physical requirements and, traditionally, also worked in occupations with lower intellectual requirements than men. However, the later trend has been reversed over time with women overtaking men in college education by the mid 1980s. This paper uses a model in which agents make work and education decisions to account for the importance of technological shifts in women’s labor market experience. The key feature of the model is that individuals are heterogenous in their innate brain and brawn abilities, and women have on average less brawn than men. This is the main source for the employment, wage and education gaps in the 1950s between men and women. The general equilibrium model is simulated to account for the quantitative implications of brain biased technical change (BBTC), which is modeled as a rise in the share parameter on the brain factor in a CES production function, from 1950 to 2005. In particular, as BBTC favors women’s comparative advantage in brain over brawn, the model is able to generate a large rise in female participation, closing gender wage and education gaps, in addition to a rising college premium. These results suggest that labor demand changes and multidimensional skill attributes are important in explaining the radical evolution of women’s labor market participation, wages and education.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 491.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:491

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Keywords: Technological progress; education; gender wage gap; labor demand/supply;

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  1. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2007. "Gender Roles and Technological Progress," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2007-029, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  2. Larry E. Jones & Rodolfo E. Manuelli & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2003. "Why are married women working so much?," Staff Report 317, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Mehmet Yorukoglu, 2003. "Engines of Liberation," RCER Working Papers 503, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  4. Galor, Oded & Weil, David, 1995. "The Gender Gap, Fertility and Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 1157, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 1997. "Capital-skill complementarity and inequality: a macroeconomic analysis," Staff Report 239, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. Black, Sandra E. & Spitz-Oener, Alexandra, 2007. "Explaining Women’s Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women’s Work," IZA Discussion Papers 2803, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Chinhui Juhn & Sandra E. Black, 2000. "The Rise of Female Professionals: Are Women Responding to Skill Demand?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 450-455, May.
  8. L Yuetyee Wong, 2006. "Women's Economic Progress and Inequality," 2006 Meeting Papers 477, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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