Technological Acceleration, Skill Transferability and the Rise in Residual Inequality
This Paper provides an interpretation for the recent rise in residual wage inequality which is consistent with the empirical observation that a sizeable part of this increase has a transitory nature, a feature that eludes standard models based on ex-ante heterogeneity in ability. In the model an acceleration in the rate of quality-improvement of equipment, like the one observed from the early 70's, reduces workers’ capacity to transfer skills from old to new machines. This force generates a rise in the cross-sectional variance of skills, and therefore of wages. Through calibration, the Paper shows that this mechanism can account for 30% of the surge in residual inequality in the US economy (or for most of its transitory component). Two key implications of the theory - faster within job wage growth and larger wage losses upon displacement - find empirical support in the data.
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