IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/aea/aecrev/v103y2013i5p1553-97.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market

Author

Listed:
  • David H. Autor
  • David Dorn

Abstract

We offer a unified analysis of the growth of low-skill service occupations between 1980 and 2005 and the concurrent polarization of US employment and wages. We hypothesize that polarization stems from the interaction between consumer preferences, which favor variety over specialization, and the falling cost of automating routine, codifiable job tasks. Applying a spatial equilibrium model, we corroborate four implications of this hypothesis. Local labor markets that specialized in routine tasks differentially adopted information technology, reallocated low-skill labor into service occupations (employment polarization), experienced earnings growth at the tails of the distribution (wage polarization), and received inflows of skilled labor.

Suggested Citation

  • David H. Autor & David Dorn, 2013. "The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1553-1597, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:103:y:2013:i:5:p:1553-97
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.103.5.1553
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.103.5.1553
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/aer/data/aug2013/20100951_data.zip
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/aer/data/aug2013/20100951_app.pdf
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to AEA members and institutional subscribers.
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Francesca Mazzolari & Giuseppe Ragusa, 2013. "Spillovers from High-Skill Consumption to Low-Skill Labor Markets," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(1), pages 74-86, March.
    2. Lefter, Alexandru & Sand, Benjamin M., 2011. "Job Polarization in the U.S.: A Reassessment of the Evidence from the 1980s and 1990s," Economics Working Paper Series 1103, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
    3. L. Rachel Ngai & Christopher A. Pissarides, 2007. "Structural Change in a Multisector Model of Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 429-443, March.
    4. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78.
    5. David Autor & David Dorn, 2009. "This Job Is "Getting Old": Measuring Changes in Job Opportunities Using Occupational Age Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 45-51, May.
    6. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
    7. Enrico Moretti, 2013. "Real Wage Inequality," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 65-103, January.
    8. DiNardo, John & Fortin, Nicole M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1001-1044, September.
    9. Guy Michaels & Ashwini Natraj & John Van Reenen, 2010. "Has ICT Polarized Skill Demand? Evidence from Eleven Countries over 25 years," NBER Working Papers 16138, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    11. Krugman, Paul, 1991. "Increasing Returns and Economic Geography," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(3), pages 483-499, June.
    12. 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, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 705-746.
    13. David H. Autor & Alan Manning & Christopher L. Smith, 2016. "The Contribution of the Minimum Wage to US Wage Inequality over Three Decades: A Reassessment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 58-99, January.
    14. Alan S. Blinder & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Alternative Measures of Offshorability: A Survey Approach," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 97-128.
    15. Firpo, Sergio & Fortin, Nicole M. & Lemieux, Thomas, 2011. "Occupational Tasks and Changes in the Wage Structure," IZA Discussion Papers 5542, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Tolbert, Charles M., II & Killian, Molly Sizer, 1987. "Labor Market Areas for the United States," Staff Reports 277959, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    17. Alan Manning, 2004. "We Can Work It Out: the Impact of Technological Change on the Demand for Low Skill Workers," CEP Discussion Papers dp0640, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    18. Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2011. "The Incidence of Local Labor Demand Shocks," NBER Working Papers 17167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. repec:pri:cepsud:190blinder is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Peter B. Meyer & Anastasiya M. Osborne, 2005. "Proposed Category System for 1960-2000 Census Occupations," Working Papers 383, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    21. Ellison, Glenn & Glaeser, Edward L, 1997. "Geographic Concentration in U.S. Manufacturing Industries: A Dartboard Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(5), pages 889-927, October.
    22. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
    23. Weiss, Matthias, 2008. "Skill-biased technological change: Is there hope for the unskilled?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 439-441, September.
    24. Alan Manning, 2004. "We Can Work It Out: The Impact of Technological Change on the Demand for Low‐Skill Workers," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 51(5), pages 581-608, November.
    25. Alan S. Blinder & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Alternative Measures of Offshorability: A Survey Approach," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 97-128.
    26. Nordhaus, William D., 2007. "Two Centuries of Productivity Growth in Computing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(1), pages 128-159, March.
    27. Bound, John & Holzer, Harry J, 2000. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 20-54, January.
    28. Gene M. Grossman & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2008. "Trading Tasks: A Simple Theory of Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1978-1997, December.
    29. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
    30. David H. Autor & Mark G. Duggan, 2003. "The Rise in the Disability Rolls and the Decline in Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 157-206.
    31. 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.
    32. Paul Beaudry & Mark Doms & Ethan Lewis, 2010. "Should the Personal Computer Be Considered a Technological Revolution? Evidence from U.S. Metropolitan Areas," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(5), pages 988-1036.
    33. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Acemoglu, Daron & Autor, David, 2011. "Skills, Tasks and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 12, pages 1043-1171, Elsevier.
    2. Autor, David & Dorn, David, 2009. "Inequality and Specialization: The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs in the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 4290, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Antonio Accetturo & Alberto Dalmazzo & Guido Blasio, 2014. "Skill Polarization In Local Labor Markets Under Share-Altering Technical Change," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 249-272, March.
    4. Zsófia L. Bárány & Christian Siegel, 2018. "Job Polarization and Structural Change," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 57-89, January.
    5. Zsófia L. Bárány & Christian Siegel, 2018. "Job Polarization and Structural Change," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 57-89, January.
    6. Bárány, Zsófia L. & Siegel, Christian, 2020. "Biased technological change and employment reallocation," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(C).
    7. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning & Anna Salomons, 2014. "Explaining Job Polarization: Routine-Biased Technological Change and Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(8), pages 2509-2526, August.
    8. David H. Autor, 2019. "Work of the Past, Work of the Future," AEA Papers and Proceedings, American Economic Association, vol. 109, pages 1-32, May.
    9. Wielandt, Hanna & Senftleben, Charlotte, 2012. "The Polarization of Employment in German Local Labor Markets," VfS Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62063, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    10. Guido Matias Cortes, 2016. "Where Have the Middle-Wage Workers Gone? A Study of Polarization Using Panel Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 63-105.
    11. Van Reenen, John, 2011. "Wage inequality, technology and trade: 21st century evidence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 730-741.
    12. Salvatori, Andrea, 2018. "The anatomy of job polarisation in the UK," Journal for Labour Market Research, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany], vol. 52(1), pages .8(1-15).
    13. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Re-Assessing the Revisionists," NBER Working Papers 11627, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Orhun Sevinc, 2017. "Skill-Biased Technical Change and Labor Market Polarization: The Role of Skill Heterogeneity Within Occupations," Discussion Papers 1728, Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM).
    15. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2014. "Spatial changes in labour market inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 121-138.
    16. Ariell Reshef, 2013. "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(2), pages 312-331, April.
    17. Suzanne Kok & Bas ter Weel, 2014. "Cities, Tasks, And Skills," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(5), pages 856-892, November.
    18. Martina Bisello, 2013. "Job polarization in Britain from a task-based perspective.Evidence from the UK Skills Surveys," Discussion Papers 2013/160, Dipartimento di Economia e Management (DEM), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
    19. David A. Green & Benjamin M. Sand, 2015. "Has the Canadian labour market polarized?," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 48(2), pages 612-646, May.
    20. Barbara Pertold-Gebicka, 2010. "Measuring Skill Intensity of Occupations with Imperfect Substitutability Across Skill Types," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp421, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

    Lists

    This item is featured on the following reading lists, Wikipedia, or ReplicationWiki pages:
    1. The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market (AER 2013) in ReplicationWiki

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:103:y:2013:i:5:p:1553-97. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/aeaaaea.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Michael P. Albert (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/aeaaaea.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.