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Evidence on wage inequality, worker education, and technology


  • Christopher H. Wheeler


The rise in U.S. wage inequality over the past two decades is commonly associated with an increase in the use of "skill-biased" technologies (e.g., computer equipment) in the workplace, yet relatively few studies have attempted to measure the direct link between the two. This paper explores the relationship among inequality, worker education levels, and workplace computer usage using a sample of 230 U.S. industries between 1983 and 2002. The results generate two primary conclusions: First, this rising inequality in the United States has been caused predominantly by increasing wage dispersion within industries rather than between industries. Second, within-industry inequality is strongly tied to both the frequency of computer usage among workers and the fraction of total employment with a college degree. Both results lend support to the idea that skill-biased technological change has been an important element in the rise of U.S. wage inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher H. Wheeler, 2005. "Evidence on wage inequality, worker education, and technology," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue May, pages 375-393.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlrv:y:2005:i:may:p:375-393:n:v.87no.3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eli Berman & John Bound & Zvi Griliches, 1994. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U. S. Manufacturing: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufactures," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 367-397.
    2. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    3. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
    4. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    5. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
    6. Blau, Francine D & Kahn, Lawrence M, 1996. "International Differences in Male Wage Inequality: Institutions versus Market Forces," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 791-836, August.
    7. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
    8. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Friedman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1997. "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 1-90.
    9. John M. Abowd & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abow91-1, January.
    10. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mirza, Tasneem & Narayanan, Badri & van Leeuwen, Nico, 2014. "Impact of Chinese growth and trade on labor in developed countries," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 522-532.
    2. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Menbere Shiferaw, 2011. "Decomposing the education wage gap: everything but the kitchen sink," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue July, pages 243-272.
    3. Schlicht, Ekkehart, 2007. "Wage Dispersion, Over-Qualification, and Reder Competition," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 1, pages 1-22.
    4. van de Klundert, Theo, 2008. "Looking back, looking ahead: Biased technological change, substitution and the wage gap," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 707-713, June.
    5. Zhang, Jingjing, 2015. "International factor mobility, elasticity of substitution in production and the skilled–unskilled wage gap," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 122-129.
    6. Lustig, Hanno & Syverson, Chad & Van Nieuwerburgh, Stijn, 2011. "Technological change and the growing inequality in managerial compensation," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(3), pages 601-627, March.

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    Labor market ; Education ; Technology ; Wages;


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