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Decomposing changes in wage distributions: a unified approach


  • Thomas Lemieux


Over the last fifteen years, many researchers have attempted to explain the determinants and changes of wage inequality. I propose a simple procedure to decompose changes in the distribution of wages or in other distributions into three factors: changes in regression coefficients; the distribution of covariates, and residuals. The procedure requires only estimating standard OLS regressions augmented by a logit or probit model. It can be extended by modelling residuals as a function of unmeasured skills and skill prices. Two empirical examples showing how the procedure works in practice are considered. In the first example, sources of differences in the wage distribution in Alberta and British Columbia are considered; in the second, sources of change in overall wage inequality in the United States, 1973–99, are re–examined. Finally, the proposed procedure is compared with existing procedures. JEL classification: J3 La décomposition des changements dans les distributions de salaires : une approche unifée. Au cours des quinze dernières années, nombre d’études se sont penchées sur les déterminants et les changements de la distribution des salaires. Ce mémoire propose une procédure pour décomposer les changements de la distribution des salaires en trois éléments: les changements dans les coefficients de régression, la distribution des regresseurs et les changements résiduels. Cette procédure ne nécessite que l’estimation de regressions par moindre carrés ordinaires et d’un modèle probit ou logit. L’auteur montre aussi comment modéliser les résidus en fonction de compétences non mesurées. La procédure proposée est mise en application dans le contexte de deux exemples: la distribution des salaires en Alberta et en Colombie–Britannique et les changements dans la distribution des salaires de 1973 à 1999 aux Etats–Unis. Le mémoire examine aussi comment cette procédure se compare aux méthodes proposées par d’autres chercheurs.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Lemieux, 2002. "Decomposing changes in wage distributions: a unified approach," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 35(4), pages 646-688, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:canjec:v:35:y:2002:i:4:p:646-688
    DOI: 10.1111/1540-5982.00149

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    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs


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