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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. Frank Levy & David H. Autor & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue nov.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Bleemer, Zachary & Zafar, Basit, 2018. "Intended college attendance: Evidence from an experiment on college returns and costs," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 184-211.
    2. Di Paolo, Antonio & Tansel, Aysit, 2017. "Analyzing Wage Differentials by Fields of Study: Evidence from Turkey," GLO Discussion Paper Series 91, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    3. Zachary Bleemer & Basit Zafar, 2014. "Information heterogeneity and intended college enrollment," Staff Reports 685, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    4. Bhalotra, Sonia & Fernandez Sierra, Manuel, 2018. "The distribution of the gender wage gap," ISER Working Paper Series 2018-10, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    5. John Eric Humphries & Juanna Joensen & Gregory Veramendi, 2017. "College Major Choice: Sorting and Differential Returns to Skills," 2017 Meeting Papers 1623, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    6. Ritter, Joseph A. & West, Kristine L., 2014. "Field of Study and Earnings Inequality among the Highly Educated: 1993-2010," Miscellaneous Publications 195683, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    7. Jaison R. Abel & Richard Deitz, 2017. "Underemployment in the Early Careers of College Graduates following the Great Recession," NBER Chapters, in: Education, Skills, and Technical Change: Implications for Future U.S. GDP Growth, pages 149-181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Massimo Anelli & Kevin Shih & Kevin Williams, 2017. "Foreign Peer Effects and STEM Major Choice," CESifo Working Paper Series 6466, CESifo Group Munich.
    9. Lars Kirkebøen & Edwin Leuven & Magne Mogstad, 2014. "Field of Study, Earnings, and Self-Selection," NBER Working Papers 20816, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Ross, Matthew B., 2017. "Routine-biased technical change: Panel evidence of task orientation and wage effects," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 198-214.
    11. David Deming & Lisa B. Kahn, 2018. "Skill Requirements across Firms and Labor Markets: Evidence from Job Postings for Professionals," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(S1), pages 337-369.
    12. Bleemer, Zachary, 2016. "Role Model Effects Of Female Stem Teachers And Doctors On Early 20th Century University Enrollment In California," University of California at Berkeley, Center for Studies in Higher Education qt8nq0z4wb, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley.
    13. Lucas van der Velde, 2017. "Within occupation wage dispersion and the task content of jobs," GRAPE Working Papers 22, GRAPE Group for Research in Applied Economics.
    14. Yu (Sonja) Chen & Matthew Doyle & Francisco M. Gonzalez, "undated". "Mismatch as choice," Working Papers 2017-04, Department of Economics, University of Calgary, revised 15 May 2017.
      • Francisco M. Gonzalez & Yu Chen & Matthew Doyle, 2017. "Mismatch As Choice," Working Papers 1702, University of Waterloo, Department of Economics, revised May 2017.
    15. Joseph G. Altonji & Peter Arcidiacono & Arnaud Maurel, 2015. "The Analysis of Field Choice in College and Graduate School: Determinants and Wage Effects," NBER Working Papers 21655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Maarten Goos & Melanie Arntz & Ulrich Zierahn & Terry Gregory & Stephanie Carretero Gomez & Ignacio Gonzalez Vazquez & Koen Jonkers, 2019. "The Impact of Technological Innovation on the Future of Work," JRC Working Papers on Labour, Education and Technology 2019-03, Joint Research Centre (Seville site).
    17. Light, Audrey & Schreiner, Sydney, 2019. "College major, college coursework, and post-college wages," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 73(C).
    18. Thomas Ahn & Peter Arcidiacono & Amy Hopson & James R. Thomas, 2019. "Equilibrium Grade Inflation with Implications for Female Interest in STEM Majors," NBER Working Papers 26556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Alba Ramírez, Alfonso & Reggio Ojeda, Iliana Gabriela, 2017. "Graduating into a recession," UC3M Working papers. Economics 25363, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Departamento de Economía.
    20. Thomsen, Stephan L, 2018. "Die Rolle der Computerisierung und Digitalisierung für Beschäftigung und Einkommen," Hannover Economic Papers (HEP) dp-645, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
    21. Anelli, Massimo & Shih, Kevin Y. & Williams, Kevin, 2017. "Foreign Peer Effects and STEM Major Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 10743, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    22. Andrew Shephard & Modibo Sidibe, 2019. "Schooling Investment, Mismatch,and Wage Inequality," PIER Working Paper Archive 19-013, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    23. Bryan J. Noeth & Ray Boshara & William R. Emmons, 2015. "The Demographics of Wealth - How Age, Education and Race Separate Thrivers from Strugglers in Today's Economy. Essay No. 2: The Role of Education," Demographics of Wealth, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue 2, pages 1-28.

    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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