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The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century

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  • Claudia Goldin
  • Robert A. Margo

Abstract

The era of wage stretching has been a current focus, but we direct attention here to a decade of extraordinary wage compression—the 1940s. Wages narrowed by education, job experience, and occupation, and compression occurred within cells. The 90–10 differential in the log of wages for men was 1.45 in 1940 but 1.06 in 1950. By the late 1980s it returned to its 1940 level, thus restoring a dispersion of 50 years ago. World War II and the National War Labor Board share some credit for the Great Compression, but much was due to an increased demand for unskilled labor when educated labor was greatly expanding.

Suggested Citation

  • Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:107:y:1992:i:1:p:1-34.
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn53-1, June.
    2. Paul G. Keat, 1960. "Long-Run Changes in Occupational Wage Structure, 1900-1956," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 68, pages 584-584.
    3. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Savings," NBER Chapters,in: Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings, pages 171-218 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. John Bound & George E. Johnson, 1989. "Changes in the Structure of Wages During the 1980's: An Evaluation of Alternative Explanations," NBER Working Papers 2983, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Katz, Lawrence F. & Revenga, Ana L., 1989. "Changes in the structure of wages: The United States vs Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 522-553, December.
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