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Are specific skills an obstacle to labor market adjustment?


  • Lamo, Ana
  • Messina, Julián
  • Wasmer, Etienne


This paper shows that specialized education reduces workers' mobility and hence their ability to cope with economic changes. We illustrate this point using labor force data from two countries having experienced important macroeconomic turbulence; a large economy with rigid labor markets, Poland, and a small open economy with increased flexibility, Estonia. We find that holding a vocational degree is associated with much longer unemployment duration spells and higher likelihood of leaving activity for older workers. We then build a theoretical framework in which young agents' careers are heavily determined by the type of initial education, and analyze the transition to a new steady-state after a sectoral demand shift. Quantitative exercises suggest that the over-specialization of the labor force in Poland led to much higher and persistent unemployment compared to Estonia during the period of EU enlargement. Traditional labor market institutions (wage rigidity and employment protection) lead to an increase of the unemployment gap, but to a lesser extent.

Suggested Citation

  • Lamo, Ana & Messina, Julián & Wasmer, Etienne, 2011. "Are specific skills an obstacle to labor market adjustment?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 240-256, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:18:y:2011:i:2:p:240-256

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

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    1. Ma l’università non deve insegnare un lavoro
      by Francesco Ferrante in La Voce on 2016-06-24 12:57:53


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Andrea Filippetti & Frederick Guy, 2016. "Risk-taking, skill diversity, and the quality of human capital: how insurance affects innovation," Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography (PEEG) 1625, Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, revised Aug 2016.
    2. Henry Ohlsson & Donald Storrie, 2012. "Long-term effects of public policy for displaced workers in Sweden: Shipyard workers in the west and miners in the north," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 33(5), pages 514-538, August.
    3. Beker, Victor A., 2012. "A case study on trade liberalization: Argentina in the 1990s," Economics Discussion Papers 2012-3, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    4. Wesselbaum, Dennis, 2015. "Sectoral labor market effects of fiscal spending," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 19-35.
    5. Kwon, Illoong & Meyersson Milgrom, Eva M., 2014. "The significance of firm and occupation specific human capital for hiring and promotions," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 162-173.
    6. Etienne Wasmer, 2006. "General versus Specific Skills in Labor Markets with Search Frictions and Firing Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 811-831, June.
    7. Tomáš Jagelka, 2017. "The Specificity of Human Capital Investment under Agent Heterogeneity and Market Frictions: Theory and Empirics," LIS Working papers 688, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    8. Brunello, Giorgio & Crivellaro, Elena & Rocco, Lorenzo, 2010. "Lost in Transition? The Returns to Education Acquired under Communism 15 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall," IZA Discussion Papers 5409, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Ariga, Kenn & Brunello, Giorgio & Iwahashi, Roki & Rocco, Lorenzo, 2006. "On the Efficiency Costs of De-tracking Secondary Schools," IZA Discussion Papers 2534, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Giorgio Brunello & Elena Crivellaro & Lorenzo Rocco, 2012. "Lost in transition?," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 20(4), pages 637-676, October.
    11. Marcin Woźniak, 2015. "Can the Stochastic Equilibrium Job Search Models Fit Transition Economies?," Acta Oeconomica, Akadémiai Kiadó, Hungary, vol. 65(4), pages 567-591, December.

    More about this item


    Skill specificity Transition Vocational training Search and matching;

    JEL classification:

    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


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