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Wage Dispersion: Why Are Similar Workers Paid Differently?

Author

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  • Dale T. Mortensen

    () (Northwestern University)

Abstract

Why are workers with identical skills found in both "good" jobs and "bad" jobs? Why are workers who do similar jobs paid differently, contrary to standard competitive theory? Observable differences in workers doing the same job account for only 30 percent of wage variation. In Wage Dispersion, Dale Mortensen examines the reasons for pay differentials in the other 70 percent. He finds that these differentials, or wage dispersion, are largely the result of job search friction (which arises when workers do not know the wages offered by all employers) and cross-firm differences in wage policy and productivity. Mortensen examines previous theoretical explanations for wage dispersion, testing them against data from a Danish matched employer-employee database. He begins by offering a simple one-period model of the problem, then expands this basic model intertemporally to include the role of on-the-job worker search behavior. Following this, he discusses theoretical modifications that offer an explanation for the nature of observed wage dispersion, particularly the shape of cross-firm wage distribution. He then examines the hypothesis that wage policies are determined by profit-maximizing behavior and finds that the Danish data do not support it; he argues that bilateral wage bargaining is the more likely determinant. Finally, he reviews recent work that extends the basic theoretical framework to explain wage dispersion within firms.

Suggested Citation

  • Dale T. Mortensen, 2005. "Wage Dispersion: Why Are Similar Workers Paid Differently?," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262633191, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262633191
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    8. van Wijnbergen, Sweder, 1987. "Tariffs, Employment and the Current Account: Real Wage Resistance and the Macroeconomics of Protectionism," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 28(3), pages 691-706, October.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    wage dispersion; pay differentials;

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • C0 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - General

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