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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 skilldistribution in recent decades. There have been sharp increases in wage inequality across theOECD, beginning with the US and UK at the end of the 1970s. A good fraction of thisinequality growth is due to technology-related increases in the demand for skilled workersoutstripping the growth of their supply. Since the early 1990s, labour markets have becomemore polarized with jobs in the middle third of the wage distribution shrinking and those inthe bottom and top third rising. I argue that this is because computerization complements themost skilled tasks, but substitutes for routine tasks performed by middle wage occupationssuch 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 bytrade with China. Thus, trade does matter for changes in the labour market through inducingfaster technical change rather than just through the conventional Heckscher-Ohlinmechanism.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/47494/
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 47494.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: May 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:47494
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
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Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  12. 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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  23. 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.
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  26. Michaels, Guy & Natraj, Ashwini & Van Reenen, John, 2010. "Has ICT Polarized Skill Demand? Evidence from Eleven Countries over 25 years," CEPR Discussion Papers 7898, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  35. 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.
  36. 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.
  37. 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.
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