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Wage Inequality,Technology and Trade: 21st Century Evidence

  • John Van Reenen

This paper describes and explains some of the principal trends in the wage and skill distribution in recent decades. There have been sharp increases in wage inequality across the OECD, beginning with the US and UK at the end of the 1970s. A good fraction of this inequality growth is due to technology-related increases in the demand for skilled workers outstripping the growth of their supply. Since the early 1990s, labour markets have become more polarized with jobs in the middle third of the wage distribution shrinking and those in the bottom and top third rising. I argue that this is because computerization complements the most skilled tasks, but substitutes for routine tasks performed by middle wage occupations such as clerks, leaving the demand for the lowest skilled service tasks largely unaffected. Finally, I argue that technology is partly endogenous, for example it has been spurred by trade with China. Thus, trade does matter for changes in the labour market through inducing faster technical change rather than just through the conventional Heckscher-Ohlin mechanism.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Occasional Papers with number 28.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepops:28
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEPOP

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  20. Nicholas Bloom & Paul M. Romer & Stephen J. Terry & John Van Reenen, 2013. "A trapped-factors model of innovation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 59326, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  21. Shaw, Kathryn, 2009. "Insider econometrics: A roadmap with stops along the way," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(6), pages 607-617, December.
  22. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2010. "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data since 1937," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128, February.
  23. Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2006. "Technical Change, Job Tasks, and Rising Educational Demands: Looking outside the Wage Structure," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 235-270, April.
  24. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects, Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 461-498, June.
  25. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
  26. Brian Bell & John Van Reenen, 2010. "Bankers' pay and extreme wage inequality in the UK," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28780, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  27. David S. Lee, 1999. "WAGE INEQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE 1980s: RISING DISPERSION OR FALLING MINIMUM WAGE?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 977-1023, August.
  28. 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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  30. Stephen Machin & John Van Reenen, 1998. "Technology And Changes In Skill Structure: Evidence From Seven Oecd Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1215-1244, November.
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  32. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: the Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0604, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
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  36. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," NBER Working Papers 8769, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  37. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
  38. Desjonqueres, Thibaut & Machin, Stephen & Van Reenen, John, 1999. " Another Nail in the Coffin? Or Can the Trade Based Explanation of Changing Skill Structures Be Resurrected?," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 101(4), pages 533-54, December.
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