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Changing Returns to Education During a Boom? The Case of Ireland

  • Seamus McGuinness

    (Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI))

  • Frances McGinnity

    (Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI))

  • Philip J. O'Connell

    (Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI))

Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" years saw GDP per capita rise from 60% of the EU average to 120% of the average over the course of the 1990s, with a growth in employment of about 40% over the period 1994-2001. What were the consequences of the boom for returns to education and wage inequality? This paper uses data from the Living in Ireland Survey for 1994, 1997 and 2001 to examine wage inequality, the returns to education and the relative demand for labour for men and women. Theories of skilled-biased technical change suggest that the rapid period of economic growth experienced in Ireland will have been accompanied by a rise in the relative demand for skilled labour that will, in turn, have led to rising wage inequality. However, this is not the case for this period. We find fairly stable returns to education and falling wage inequality for men throughout the period, partly explained by a rapid growth in demand for unskilled labour, which helped maintain low-skilled wages. For women we find some fall in the wage premium to a university degree and falling wage inequality in the period 1997-2001. We argue that for women, low-skilled wages were kept up by the introduction of the minimum wage in 2000, and high skilled wages fell due to a rapid rise in the supply of highly qualified women. The Irish example shows that skill-biased technical change theory needs to take account of both the specific changes in the nature of labour demand and the nature and extent of concomitant changes in labour supply.

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Paper provided by Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in its series Papers with number WP227.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:esr:wpaper:wp227
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  1. Colm Harmon & Hessel Oosterbeek & Ian Walker, 2003. "The Returns to Education: Microeconomics," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 17(2), pages 115-156, 04.
  2. James J. Heckman & Lance J. Lochner & Petra E. Todd, 2003. "Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions," NBER Working Papers 9732, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Nolan, Brian & O'Neill, Donal & Williams, James, 2002. "The Impact of The Minimum Wage on Irish Firms," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number PRS44.
  5. David Autor & Frank Levy & Richard Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  6. Nigel C. O’Leary & Peter J. Sloane, 2005. "The Return to a University Education in Great Britain," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 193(1), pages 75-89, July.
  7. 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.
  8. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and lovely jobs: the rising polarization of work in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20002, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  9. Helen Russell & Philip J. O’Connell, 2004. "Women Returning to Employment, Education and Training in Ireland - An Analysis of Transitions," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 35(1), pages 1-25.
  10. 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.
  11. Barrett, Alan & FitzGerald, John & Nolan, Brian, 2000. "Earnings Inequality, Returns to Education and Immigration into Ireland," IZA Discussion Papers 167, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. Lane, Philip & McCoy, Selina & Smith, Stephen & Smyth, Emer & Van Soest, Arthur & Walsh, John R., 2003. "Budget Perspectives 2004," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number BMI172 edited by Callan, Tim & Doris, Aedin & McCoy, Daniel.
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