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The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration

  • David H. Autor
  • Frank Levy
  • Richard J. Murnane

We apply an understanding of what computers do to study how computerization alters job skill demands. We argue that computer capital (1) substitutes for workers in performing cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules; and (2) complements workers in performing nonroutine problem-solving and complex communications tasks. Provided these tasks are imperfect substitutes, our model implies measurable changes in the composition of job tasks, which we explore using representative data on task input for 1960 to 1998. We find that within industries, occupations and education groups, computerization is associated with reduced labor input of routine manual and routine cognitive tasks and increased labor input of nonroutine cognitive tasks. Translating task shifts into education demand, the model can explain sixty percent of the estimated relative demand shift favoring college labor during 1970 to 1998. Task changes within nominally identical occupations account for almost half of this impact.

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Volume (Year): (2003)
Issue (Month): Nov ()
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfpr:y:2003:i:nov:x:7
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