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Wage inequality, technology and trade: 21st century evidence

Listed author(s):
  • Van Reenen, John

This paper describes and explains some of the principal trends in the wage and skill distribution in recent decades. Increases in wage inequality started in the US and UK at the end of the 1970s, but are now widespread. A good fraction of this inequality trend is due to technology-related increases in the demand for skilled workers outstripping the growth of their supply. Since the early 1990s, labor markets have become more polarized with jobs in the middle third of the wage distribution shrinking and those in the bottom and top third rising. I argue that this is because computerization complements the most skilled tasks, but substitutes for routine tasks performed by middle wage occupations such as clerks, leaving the demand for the lowest skilled service tasks largely unaffected. Finally, I argue that technology is partly endogenous, for example it has been spurred by trade with China. Thus, trade does matter for changes in the labor market, but through a different mechanism than conventionally thought.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Labour Economics.

Volume (Year): 18 (2011)
Issue (Month): 6 ()
Pages: 730-741

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Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:18:y:2011:i:6:p:730-741
DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2011.05.006
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/labeco

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