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Trends in Earnings Differentials across College Majors and the Changing Task Composition of Jobs

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  • Joseph G. Altonji
  • Lisa B. Kahn
  • Jamin D. Speer

Abstract

We show that, among college graduates, earnings differentials across field of study have increased substantially since the early 1990s. We study the degree to which this increase can be accounted for by changes in the labor market return to skills associated with a major. To do so, we define major-specific measures of the relative importance of abstract, routine, and manual tasks on the job, by linking majors to the occupations they typically lead to. Changes in the relationship between earnings and these measures can account for about two-thirds of the rise in inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph G. Altonji & Lisa B. Kahn & Jamin D. Speer, 2014. "Trends in Earnings Differentials across College Majors and the Changing Task Composition of Jobs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(5), pages 387-393, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:104:y:2014:i:5:p:387-93
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.104.5.387
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Joseph G. Altonji & Lisa B. Kahn & Jamin D. Speer, 2016. "Cashier or Consultant? Entry Labor Market Conditions, Field of Study, and Career Success," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(S1), pages 361-401.
    2. Paul Beaudry & David A. Green & Benjamin M. Sand, 2016. "The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(S1), pages 199-247.
    3. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    4. Joseph G. Altonji & Erica Blom & Costas Meghir, 2012. "Heterogeneity in Human Capital Investments: High School Curriculum, College Major, and Careers," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 4(1), pages 185-223, July.
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    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

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