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Learning, Career Paths, and the Distribution of Wages


  • Santiago Caicedo
  • Robert E. Lucas Jr.
  • Esteban Rossi-Hansberg


We develop a theory of career paths and earnings where agents organize in production hierarchies. Agents climb these hierarchies as they learn stochastically from others. Earnings grow as agents acquire knowledge and occupy positions with more subordinates. We contrast these and other implications with US census data for the period 1990 to 2010, matching the Lorenz curve of earnings and the observed mean experience-earnings profiles. We show the increase in wage inequality over this period can be rationalized with a shift in the level of the complexity and profitability of technologies relative to the distribution of knowledge in the population.

Suggested Citation

  • Santiago Caicedo & Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2019. "Learning, Career Paths, and the Distribution of Wages," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 49-88, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmac:v:11:y:2019:i:1:p:49-88
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/mac.20170390

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Xavier Gabaix & Jean‐Michel Lasry & Pierre‐Louis Lions & Benjamin Moll, 2016. "The Dynamics of Inequality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 84, pages 2071-2111, November.
    2. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78.
    3. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Benjamin Moll, 2014. "Knowledge Growth and the Allocation of Time," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(1), pages 1-51.
    4. Lorenzo Caliendo & Ferdinando Monte & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2015. "The Anatomy of French Production Hierarchies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 123(4), pages 809-852.
    5. Jovanovic, Boyan & Rousseau, Peter L., 2005. "General Purpose Technologies," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 18, pages 1181-1224, Elsevier.
    6. 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.
    7. Luis Garicano, 2000. "Hierarchies and the Organization of Knowledge in Production," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(5), pages 874-904, October.
    8. Luis Garicano & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2006. "Organization and Inequality in a Knowledge Economy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 121(4), pages 1383-1435.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bayer, Christian & Kuhn, Moritz, 2018. "Which Ladder to Climb? Decomposing Life Cycle Wage Dynamics," CEPR Discussion Papers 13158, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Jaime Arellano-Bover, 2024. "Career Consequences of Firm Heterogeneity for Young Workers: First Job and Firm Size," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(2), pages 549-589.
    3. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2018. "What Was the Industrial Revolution?," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(2), pages 182-203.
    4. Andrea L. Eisfeldt & Antonio Falato & Mindy Z. Xiaolan, 2023. "Human Capitalists," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(1), pages 1-61.
    5. Nancy Stokey, 2020. "Technology Diffusion," Working Papers 2020-94, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    6. Andrea Eisfeldt & Antonio Falato & Mindy Z. Xiaolan, 2018. "The Rise of Human Capitalist," 2018 Meeting Papers 1110, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    7. Christian Bayer & Moritz Kuhn, 2018. "Which Ladder to Climb? Wages of workers by job, plant, and education," 2018 Meeting Papers 648, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    8. Dipankar Das, 2022. "A Relationship Between the Factor Indivisibility and the Output Elasticity of the Indivisible Factor," Studies in Microeconomics, , vol. 10(1), pages 82-105, June.
    9. Gregor Jarosch & Ezra Oberfield & Esteban Rossi‐Hansberg, 2021. "Learning From Coworkers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 89(2), pages 647-676, March.
    10. Nancy Stokey, 2021. "Technology and Skill: Twin Engines of Growth," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 40, pages 12-43, April.
    11. Nancy Stokey, 2021. "Technology Diffusion," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 42, pages 15-36, October.
    12. Marek Kapicka & Ctirad Slavik, 2019. "Organization of Knowledge and Taxation," 2019 Meeting Papers 699, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    13. Jose M. Quintero-Holguin, 2018. "Wage inequality, skills and mastering new technologies," Documentos CEDE 16353, Universidad de los Andes, Facultad de Economía, CEDE.
    14. Nancy Stokey, 2020. "Technology Diffusion," NBER Working Papers 27466, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Nancy L. Stokey, 2018. "Technology and Skill: Twin Engines of Growth," NBER Working Papers 24570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Gillman, Max, 2021. "Steps in industrial development through human capital deepening," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 99(C).

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • 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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