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Unobservable skill dispersion and comparative advantage

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  • Bombardini, Matilde
  • Gallipoli, Giovanni
  • Pupato, Germán

Abstract

This paper investigates a theoretical mechanism linking comparative advantage to the distribution of skills in the working population. We develop a tractable multi-country, multi-industry model of trade with unobservable skills in the labour market and show that comparative advantage derives from (i) cross-industry differences in the substitutability of workers' skills and (ii) cross-country differences in the dispersion of skills. We establish the conditions under which higher skill dispersion leads to specialization in industries characterized by higher skill substitutability across tasks. The main results are robust when the model is extended to allow for partial observability of skills. Finally, we use distributions of literacy scores from the International Adult Literacy Survey to approximate cross-country productivity differences due to skill dispersion and we carry out a quantitative assessment of the impact of skill dispersion on the pattern of trade.

Suggested Citation

  • Bombardini, Matilde & Gallipoli, Giovanni & Pupato, Germán, 2014. "Unobservable skill dispersion and comparative advantage," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(2), pages 317-329.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:inecon:v:92:y:2014:i:2:p:317-329
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jinteco.2013.11.005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    11. Gene M. Grossman, 2004. "The Distribution of Talent and the Pattern and Consequences of International Trade," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(1), pages 209-239, February.
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    Cited by:

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    2. Blanchard, Emily & Willmann, Gerald, 2016. "Trade, education, and the shrinking middle class," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 263-278.
    3. Parrotta, Pierpaolo & Pozzoli, Dario & Pytlikova, Mariola, 2014. "Labor diversity and firm productivity," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 144-179.
    4. Brant Abbott & Giovanni Gallipoli, 2017. "Human Capital Spillovers and the Geography of Intergenerational Mobility," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 25, pages 208-233, April.
    5. Parrotta, Pierpaolo & Pozzoli, Dario & Sala, Davide, 2016. "Ethnic diversity and firms' export behavior," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 248-263.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Substitutability; Skill dispersion; Skill distribution;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F12 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Models of Trade with Imperfect Competition and Scale Economies; Fragmentation
    • F16 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade and Labor Market Interactions
    • J82 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Labor Force Composition

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