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Real Wage Inequality

  • Moretti, Enrico

A large literature has documented a significant increase in the return to college over the past 30 years. This increase is typically measured using nominal wages. I show that from 1980 to 2000, college graduates have increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas that are characterized by a high cost of housing. Therefore, the increase in the college premium in real terms may be smaller than the increase in the nominal terms. To measure the college premium in real terms, I deflate nominal wages using a new CPI that allows for changes in the cost of housing to vary across metropolitan areas and education groups. I find that half of the documented increase in the return to college between 1980 and 2000 disappears when I use real wages. To understand the implications of this finding for changes in well-being inequality I use a simple general equilibrium model. It is possible that the relative supply of college graduates increases in expensive cities because college graduates are increasingly attracted by amenities located in those cities. In this case, there may still be a significant increase in well-being inequality even if the increase in real wage inequality is limited. Alternatively, it is possible that the relative demand of college graduates increases in expensive cities due to shifts in the relative productivity of skilled labor. In this case, the relative increase in skilled workers' standard of living is offset by higher cost of living. The empirical evidence indicates that relative demand shifts are more important than relative supply shifts, suggesting that the increase in well-being inequality between 1980 and 2000 is smaller than the increase in nominal wage inequality.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6997.

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Date of creation: Oct 2008
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6997
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  1. Thomas Lemieux, 2007. "The Changing Nature of Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 13523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. David Card & Thomas Lemieux, 2000. "Can Falling Supply Explain the Rising Return to College for Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis," NBER Working Papers 7655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise in American Inequality: A Survey," CEPR Discussion Papers 6817, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. James Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explanations With A Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings With Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(1), pages 1-58, January.
  10. Joseph Gyourko & Christopher Mayer & Todd Sinai, 2006. "Superstar Cities," NBER Working Papers 12355, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. 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.
  12. Douglas J. Krupka, 2009. "Location-Specific Human Capital, Location Choice And Amenity Demand," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(5), pages 833-854.
  13. Michael Greenstone & Richard Hornbeck & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "Identifying Agglomeration Spillovers: Evidence from Million Dollar Plants," NBER Working Papers 13833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2005. "Where did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," CEPR Discussion Papers 5419, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  18. Enrico Moretti, 2002. "Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," NBER Working Papers 9108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
  20. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2007. "Long-Run Changes in the U.S. Wage Structure: Narrowing, Widening, Polarizing," NBER Working Papers 13568, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Bound, John & Holzer, Harry J, 2000. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 20-54, January.
  22. Gordon B. Dahl, 2002. "Mobility and the Return to Education: Testing a Roy Model with Multiple Markets," RCER Working Papers 488, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  23. Ian Dew-Becker & Robert J. Gordon, 2005. "Where Did Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 67-150.
  24. Bound, John & Johnson, George, 1992. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the 1980's: An Evaluation of Alternative Explanations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 371-92, June.
  25. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2001. "The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," NBER Working Papers 8337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Jeff Grogger & Eric Eide, 1995. "Changes in College Skills and the Rise in the College Wage Premium," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 280-310.
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