Unobservable skill dispersion and comparative advantage
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.
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