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Taking technology to task: The skill content of technological change in early twentieth century United States

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  • Gray, Rowena

Abstract

This paper uses new data on the task content of occupations to present a new picture of the labor market effects of technological change in pre-WWII United States. I show that, similar to the recent computerization episode, the electrification of the manufacturing sector led to a “hollowing out” of the skill distribution whereby workers in the middle of the distribution lost out to those at the extremes. OLS estimates show that electrification increased the demand for clerical, numerical, planning and people skills relative to manual skills while simultaneously reducing relative demand for the dexterity-intensive jobs which comprised the middle of the skill distribution. Thus, early twentieth century technological change was unskill-biased for blue collar tasks but skill-biased on aggregate. These results are in line with the downward trend in wage differentials within U.S. manufacturing up to 1950.

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  • Gray, Rowena, 2013. "Taking technology to task: The skill content of technological change in early twentieth century United States," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 351-367.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:50:y:2013:i:3:p:351-367
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2013.04.002
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    Cited by:

    1. Consoli, Davide & Marin, Giovanni & Marzucchi, Alberto & Vona, Francesco, 2016. "Do green jobs differ from non-green jobs in terms of skills and human capital?," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(5), pages 1046-1060.
    2. Graetz, Georg & Feng, Andy, 2014. "Rise of the Machines: The Effects of Labor-Saving Innovations on Jobs and Wages," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100401, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. Jeanne Lafortune & José Tessada & Ethan Lewis, 2015. "People and Machines A Look at the Evolving Relationship Between Capital and Skill In Manufacturing 1860-1930 Using Immigration Shocks," Documentos de Trabajo 463, Instituto de Economia. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile..
    4. Guy Michaels & Ferdinand Rauch & Stephen J. Redding, 2013. "Task Specialization in U.S. Cities from 1880-2000," CEP Discussion Papers dp1186, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    5. Xie, Bin, 2017. "The Effects of Immigration Quotas on Wages, the Great Black Migration, and Industrial Development," IZA Discussion Papers 11214, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Miguel Morin, 2015. "The Labor Market Consequences of Electricity Adoption: Concrete Evidence from the Great Depression," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1554, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    7. Davide Consoli & Francesco Vona & Francesco Rentocchini, 2016. "That was then, this is now: skills and routinization in the 2000s," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(5), pages 847-866.
    8. Zachary Ward, 2016. "The Role of English Fluency in Migrant Assimilation: Evidence from United States History," CEH Discussion Papers 049, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    9. Frey, Carl Benedikt & Osborne, Michael A., 2017. "The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 254-280.
    10. Stefan Leknes & Jørgen Modalsli, 2018. "Who benefited from industrialization? The local effects of hydropower technology adoption," Discussion Papers 874, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    11. Davide Consoli & Mabel Sánchez-Barrioluengo, 2016. "Polarization and the growth of low-skill employment in Spanish Local Labor Markets," Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography (PEEG) 1628, Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, revised Nov 2016.
    12. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:2:p:490-:d:131554 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Technological change; Skill bias; Electrification;

    JEL classification:

    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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