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The Measurement of Human Capital in the U.S. Economy

  • John M. Abowd
  • Paul A. Lengermann
  • Kevin L. McKinney

We develop a new approach to measuring human capital that permits the distinction of both observable and unobservable dimensions of skill by associating human capital with the portable part of an individual’s wage rate. Using new large-scale, integrated employer-employee data containing information on 68 million individuals and 3.6 million firms, we explain a very large proportion (84%) of the total variation in wages rates and attribute substantial variation to both individual and employer heterogeneity. While the wage distribution remained largely unchanged between 1992-1997, we document a pronounced right shift in the overall distribution of human capital. Most workers entering our sample, while less experienced, were otherwise more highly skilled, a difference which can be attributed almost exclusively to unobservables. Nevertheless, compared to exiters and continuers, entrants exhibited a greater tendency to match to firms paying below average internal wages. Firms reduced employment shares of low skilled workers and increased employment shares of high skilled workers in virtually every industry. Our results strongly suggest that the distribution of human capital will continue to shift to the right, implying a continuing up-skilling of the employed labor force.

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File URL: ftp://ftp2.census.gov/ces/tp/tp-2002-09.pdf
File Function: Revised version, 2003
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Paper provided by Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau in its series Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers with number 2002-09.

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Length: 101 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2002
Date of revision: Mar 2003
Handle: RePEc:cen:tpaper:2002-09
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  1. John Haltiwanger & C J Krizan & Lucia Foster, 1998. "Aggregate Productivity Growth: Lessons From Microeconomic Evidence," Working Papers 98-12, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  2. Louis S. Jacobson & Robert J. LaLonde & Daniel G. Sullivan, 1992. "Earnings losses of displaced workers," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 92-28, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  3. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2000. "Gender Differences in Pay," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 75-99, Fall.
  4. Dale W. Jorgenson, 1991. "Productivity and Economic Growth," NBER Chapters, in: Fifty Years of Economic Measurement: The Jubilee of the Conference on Research in Income and Wealth, pages 19-118 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Daniel Aaronson & Daniel Sullivan, 2001. "Growth in worker quality," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q IV, pages 53-74.
  6. Simon D. Woodcock, 2004. "Agent Heterogeneity and Learning: An Application to Labor Markets," Econometric Society 2004 North American Winter Meetings 363, Econometric Society.
  7. John M. Abowd & Lars Vilhuber, 2002. "The Sensitivity of Economic Statistics to Coding Errors in Personal Identifiers," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-17, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau, revised Mar 2003.
  8. Marc Roemer, 2002. "Using Administrative Earnings Records to Assess Wage Data Quality in the March Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-22, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  9. Groshen, Erica L, 1991. "Sources of Intra-industry Wage Dispersion: How Much Do Employers Matter?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(3), pages 869-84, August.
  10. Robert H. Topel & Michael P. Ward, 1988. "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," NBER Working Papers 2649, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Abowd, J.M. & Kramarz, F. & Margolis, D.N., 1995. "High-Wage Workers and High-Wage Firms," Cahiers de recherche 9503, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
  12. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  13. John Abowd & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Julia Lane & Paul Lengermann & Kristin McCue & Kevin McKinney & Kristin Sandusky, 2002. "The Relation among Human Capital, Productivity and Market Value: Building Up from Micro Evidence," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-14, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  14. John M. Abowd & Robert H. Creecy & Francis Kramarz, 2002. "Computing Person and Firm Effects Using Linked Longitudinal Employer-Employee Data," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-06, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  15. John M. Abowd & John Haltiwanger & Julia I. Lane & Kristin Sandusky, 2001. "Within and Between Firm Changes in Human Capital, Technology, and Productivity Preliminary and incomplete," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2001-03, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  16. Paul A. Lengermann, 2002. "Is it Who You Are, Where You Work, or With Whom You Work? Reassessing the Relationship Between Skill Segregation and Wage Inequality," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-10, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  17. Kevin L. McKinney, 2002. "Successor/Predecessor Firms," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-04, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  18. Martha Harrison Stinson, 2002. "Estimating the Relationship between Employer-Provided Health Insurance, Worker Mobility, and Wages," 10th International Conference on Panel Data, Berlin, July 5-6, 2002 B1-2, International Conferences on Panel Data.
  19. Jaeger, David A, 1997. "Reconciling the Old and New Census Bureau Education Questions: Recommendations for Researchers," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 15(3), pages 300-309, July.
  20. Abowd, John M. & Kramarz, Francis, 1999. "Econometric analyses of linked employer-employee data," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 53-74, March.
  21. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
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