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Changes in wage inequality

  • Stephen Machin
  • John Van Reenen

We examine trends in wage inequality in the US and other countries over the past four decades. We show that there has been a secular increase in the 90-50 wage differential in the US and the UK since the late 1970s. By contrast the 50-10 differential rose mainly in the 1980s and flattened or fell in the 1990s and 2000s. We analyze the reasons for these trends and conclude that a version of the skill biased technical change hypothesis combined with institutional changes (the decline in the minimum wage and trade unions) continues to offer the best explanation for the observed patterns of change.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/4667/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 4667.

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Length: 23 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:4667
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
Phone: +44 (020) 7405 7686
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  1. 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.
  2. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(2), pages 699-746, May.
  3. Richard B. Freeman, 1980. "Unionism and the dispersion of wages," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 34(1), pages 3-23, October.
  4. John DiNardo & Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 1995. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," NBER Working Papers 5093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Olivier Blanchard, 2004. "The Economic Future of Europe," NBER Working Papers 10310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1997. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," NBER Working Papers 5956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Caroli, Eve & Van Reenen, John, 1999. "Skill biased organizational change? Evidence from a panel of British and French establishments," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9917, CEPREMAP.
  10. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1991. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," NBER Working Papers 3927, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
  12. Eli Berman & John Bound & Zvi Griliches, 1993. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U.S. Manufacturing Industries: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufacturing," NBER Working Papers 4255, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Jean-Marc Burniaux & Flavio Padrini & Nicola Brandt, 2006. "Labour Market Performance, Income Inequality and Poverty in OECD countries," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 500, OECD Publishing.
  14. Richard Dickens & Stephen Machin & Alan Manning, 1994. "The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment: Theory and Evidence from Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0183, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  15. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
  16. Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "How Computers Have Changed the Wage Structure: Evidence From Microdata, 1984-1989," NBER Working Papers 3858, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. David Card & Thomas Lemieux, 2001. "Can Falling Supply Explain The Rising Return To College For Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 705-746, May.
  18. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 1999. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Doms, Mark & Dunne, Timothy & Troske, Kenneth R, 1997. "Workers, Wages, and Technology," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 253-90, February.
  20. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Re-Assessing the Revisionists," NBER Working Papers 11627, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. DiNardo, John E & Pischke, Jorn-Steffen, 1997. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 291-303, February.
  22. 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.
  23. Nickell, Stephen & Bell, Brian, 1995. "The Collapse in Demand for the Unskilled and Unemployment across the OECD," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 40-62, Spring.
  24. Machin, Stephen, 1996. "Wage Inequality in the UK," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 47-64, Spring.
  25. 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.
  26. Berman, Eli & Bound, John & Griliches, Zvi, 1994. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U.S. Manufacturing: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufactures," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(2), pages 367-97, May.
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