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The Link between Ability and Specialization: An Explanation for Observed Correlations between Wages and Mobility Rates


  • Derek Neal


Wage levels and turnover rates are negatively correlated across types of employment, and this fact is often interpreted as evidence that high-wage jobs are rationed. A simple training model illustrates, however, that this correlation may arise because able workers have an incentive to choose highly specialized jobs. In any job, the most able workers possess the most valuable stocks of specific skills and therefore face the highest mobility costs. Thus, able workers may have a comparative advantage in specialized employments. Data from the national Longitudinal Survey of Youth provide an opportunity to evaluate the merits of the training model developed here. Data on worker training and mobility provide support for several implications of the model. The model also provides new ways to interpret existing results in the literature on interindustry wage differentials.

Suggested Citation

  • Derek Neal, 1998. "The Link between Ability and Specialization: An Explanation for Observed Correlations between Wages and Mobility Rates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 33(1), pages 173-200.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:33:y:1998:i:1:p:173-200

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    Cited by:

    1. Robert J. R. Elliott & Joanne Lindley, 2006. "Skill Specificity And Labour Mobility: Occupational And Sectoral Dimensions," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 74(3), pages 389-413, June.
    2. Philip Oreopoulos & Till von Wachter & Andrew Heisz, 2006. "The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession: Hysteresis and Heterogeneity in the Market for College Graduates," NBER Working Papers 12159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Pinheiro, Roberto & Visschers, Ludo, 2015. "Unemployment risk and wage differentials," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 397-424.
    4. Stefan Bender & Till von Wachter, 2006. "In the Right Place at the Wrong Time: The Role of Firms and Luck in Young Workers' Careers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1679-1705, December.
    5. Spitz, Alexandra & Fitzenberger, Bernd, 2004. "Die Anatomie des Berufswechsels: Eine empirische Bestandsaufnahme auf Basis der BIBB/IAB-Daten 1998/1999," ZEW Discussion Papers 04-05, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    6. Lars Lefgren & Matthew J. Lindquist & David Sims, 2012. "Rich Dad, Smart Dad: Decomposing the Intergenerational Transmission of Income," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 120(2), pages 268-303.
    7. Peter Dolton & Gerald Makepeace & Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2005. "Career progression: Getting-on, getting-by and going nowhere," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(2), pages 237-255.
    8. Zuckerman, Ezra W. & Kim, Tai-Young & Ukanwa, Kalinda & James, von Rittmann, 2003. "Robust Identities or Non-Entities? Typecasting in the Feature Film Labor Market," Working papers 4291-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    9. Wheeler, Christopher H., 2008. "Local market scale and the pattern of job changes among young men," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 101-118, March.
    10. Pekka Ilmakunnas & Mika Maliranta, 2005. "Worker inflow, outflow, and churning," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(10), pages 1115-1133.
    11. David Seim, 2012. "Job displacement and labor market outcomes by skill level," Bank of Estonia Working Papers wp2012-4, Bank of Estonia.
    12. Lars Vilhuber, 1999. "Continuous Training and Sectoral Mobility in Germany, Evidence from the 1990s," Vierteljahrshefte zur Wirtschaftsforschung / Quarterly Journal of Economic Research, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, vol. 68(2), pages 209-214.
    13. Lex Borghans & Bart Golsteyn, 2007. "Skill transferability, regret and mobility," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(13), pages 1663-1677.
    14. Phimister, Euan & Theodossiou, Ioannis & Upward, Richard, 2004. "Is It Easier To Escape From Low Pay In Urban Areas? Evidence From The Uk," Discussion Papers 31790, University of Aberdeen Business School, Centre for European Labour Market Research (CELMR).
    15. Carl Sanders & Christopher Taber, 2012. "Life-Cycle Wage Growth and Heterogeneous Human Capital," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 4(1), pages 399-425, July.

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