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Wage Differentials across Labor Markets and Workers: Does Cost of Living Matter?

  • Dumond, J Michael
  • Hirsch, Barry T
  • Macpherson, David A

Wage differential studies rarely account for interarea differences in cost of living, owing both to data limitations and theoretical ambiguity. This study develops a price index for 185 metropolitan areas comprising about 70% of the U.S. labor force. Current Population Survey data for 1985-95 and data on site-specific amenities are used to estimate earnings differentials based on nominal wages, wages fully adjusted for measured cost of living, and a simple approximation of "real" wages with partial adjustment for price-level differences. Dispersion in approximate real wages across 185 labor markets and differentials by region and city size are substantially lower than dispersion in nominal or full adjustment wages. Estimates of racial and ethnic differentials display moderate sensitivity to choice of a wage measure, whereas other standard differentials do not. Both nominal wages and wages fully adjusted for cost of living may provide misleading estimates of real wage differentials. Absent data on interarea prices and amenities, researchers should include detailed controls for region and city size in nominal wage equations. Copyright 1999 by Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Western Economic Association International in its journal Economic Inquiry.

Volume (Year): 37 (1999)
Issue (Month): 4 (October)
Pages: 577-98

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Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:37:y:1999:i:4:p:577-98
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  1. Glaeser, Edward L & Mare, David C, 2001. "Cities and Skills," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(2), pages 316-42, April.
  2. Blomquist, Glenn C & Berger, Mark C & Hoehn, John P, 1988. "New Estimates of Quality of Life in Urban Areas," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(1), pages 89-107, March.
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  4. Edward L. Glaeser, 1996. "Should Transfer Payments Be Indexed to Local Price Levels?," NBER Working Papers 5598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Gyourko, Joseph & Tracy, Joseph, 1991. "The Structure of Local Public Finance and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(4), pages 774-806, August.
  7. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1996. "Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 626-656, September.
  8. Hanushek, Eric A, 1973. "Regional Differences in the Structure of Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 55(2), pages 204-13, May.
  9. Sahling, Leonard G & Smith, Sharon P, 1983. "Regional Wage Differentials: Has the South Risen Again?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(1), pages 131-35, February.
  10. Greenwood, Michael J, et al, 1991. "Migration, Regional Equilibrium, and the Estimation of Compensating Differentials," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1382-90, December.
  11. Montgomery, Edward, 1992. "Evidence on metropolitan wage differences across industries and over time," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 69-83, January.
  12. Ciccone, Antonio & Hall, Robert E, 1996. "Productivity and the Density of Economic Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(1), pages 54-70, March.
  13. David E. Bloom & Gilles Grenier, 1993. "Language, Employment and Earnings in the United States: Spanish-English Differentials from 1970 to 1990," NBER Working Papers 4584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Bellante, Don, 1979. "The North-South Differential and the Migration of Heterogeneous Labor," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 166-75, March.
  15. Roback, Jennifer, 1982. "Wages, Rents, and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1257-78, December.
  16. McManus, Walter & Gould, William & Welch, Finis, 1983. "Earnings of Hispanic Men: The Role of English Language Proficiency," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(2), pages 101-30, April.
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