IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

The wage premium puzzle and the quality of human capital

  • Milton H. Marquis
  • Bharat Trehan
  • Wuttipan Tantivong

The wage premium for high-skilled workers in the United States, measured as the ratio of the 90th-to-10th percentiles from the wage distribution, increased by 20 percent from the 1970s to the late 1980s. A large literature has emerged to explain this phenomenon. A leading explanation is that skill-biased technological change (SBTC) increased the demand for skilled labor relative to unskilled labor. In a calibrated vintage capital model with heterogenous labor, this paper examines whether SBTC is likely to have been a major factor in driving up the wage premium. Our results suggest that the contribution of SBTC is very small, accounting for about 1/20th of the observed increase. By contrast, a gradual and very modest shift in the distribution of human capital across workers can easily account for the large observed increase in wage inequality.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2011-06.

in new window

Date of creation: 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2011-06
Contact details of provider: Postal: P.O. Box 7702, San Francisco, CA 94120-7702
Phone: (415) 974-2000
Fax: (415) 974-3333
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Email:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. 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.
  2. Rogerson, Richard, 1988. "Indivisible labor, lotteries and equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 3-16, January.
  3. Aghion, Philippe, 2002. "Schumpeterian Growth Theory and the Dynamics of Income Inequality," Scholarly Articles 3350067, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Simon Gilchrist & John C. Williams, 1998. "Putty-Clay and Investment: A Business Cycle Analysis," NBER Working Papers 6812, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jovanovic, B., 1998. "Vintage Capital and Equality," Working Papers 98-16, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  6. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Patterns of Skill Premia," NBER Working Papers 7018, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:109:y:1994:i:2:p:367-97 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. 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.
  9. Philippe Aghion, 2002. "Schumpeterian Growth Theory and the Dynamics of Income Inequality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(3), pages 855-882, May.
  10. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:108:y:1993:i:1:p:33-60 is not listed on IDEAS
  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. Wood Júnior, Thomaz, 1995. "Workers," RAE - Revista de Administração de Empresas, FGV-EAESP Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo (Brazil), vol. 35(2), January.
  13. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1978. "Asset Prices in an Exchange Economy," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(6), pages 1429-45, November.
  14. Leamer, Edward E, 1996. "Wage Inequality from International Competition and Technological Change: Theory and Country Experience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 309-14, May.
  15. repec:fth:starer:9816 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Adrian Wood, 1995. "How Trade Hurt Unskilled Workers," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 57-80, Summer.
  17. Greenwood, J. & Hercowitz, Z. & Krusell, P., 1998. "The Role of Investment-Specific Technological Change in the Business Cycle," RCER Working Papers 449, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  18. Acemoglu, Daron & Aghion, Philippe & Violante, Giovanni L., 2001. "Deunionization, technical change and inequality," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 229-264, December.
  19. Dinardo, J. & Fortin, N.M. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: a Semiparametric Approach," Cahiers de recherche 9406, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
  20. Katz, L.F. & Murphy, K.M., 1991. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1580, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  21. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & JosÈ-Victor RÌos-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 2000. "Capital-Skill Complementarity and Inequality: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(5), pages 1029-1054, September.
  22. Milton H. Marquis & Bharat Trehan, 2007. "Productivity shocks in a model with vintage capital and heterogeneous labor," Working Paper Series 2007-06, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  23. Dasgupta, Indro & Osang, Thomas, 2002. "Globalization and relative wages: further evidence from U.S. manufacturing industries," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 1-16, April.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. Jovanovic, B., 1998. "Vintage Capital and Equality," Working Papers 98-16, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  27. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2011-06. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Noah Pollaczek)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.