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Recent Flattening in the Higher Education Wage Premium: Polarization, Skill Downgrading, or Both?

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  • Robert G. Valletta

Abstract

Wage gaps between workers with a college or graduate degree and those with only a high school degree rose rapidly in the United States during the 1980s. Since then, the rate of growth in these wage gaps has progressively slowed, and though the gaps remain large, they were essentially unchanged between 2010 and 2015. I assess this flattening over time in higher education wage premiums with reference to two related explanations for changing U.S. employment patterns: (i) a shift away from middle-skilled occupations driven largely by technological change (?polarization?); and (ii) a general weakening in the demand for advanced cognitive skills (?skill downgrading?). Analyses of wage and employment data from the U.S. Current Population Survey suggest that both factors have contributed to the flattening of higher education wage premiums.

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  • Robert G. Valletta, 2016. "Recent Flattening in the Higher Education Wage Premium: Polarization, Skill Downgrading, or Both?," Working Paper Series 2016-17, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2016-17
    DOI: 10.24148/wp2016-17
    Note: First version: October 9, 2015 / This version: August 17, 2016
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    Cited by:

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    2. Aleksandra Kolasa, 2017. "Macroeconomic consequences of the demographic and educational transition in Poland," Working Papers 2017-30, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
    3. Jeffrey T. Denning & Eric R. Eide & Kevin J. Mumford & Richard W. Patterson & Merrill Warnick, 2022. "Why Have College Completion Rates Increased?," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 1-29, July.
    4. Charles R. Hulten, 2018. "The Importance of Education and Skill Development for Economic Growth in the Information Era," NBER Chapters, in: Education, Skills, and Technical Change: Implications for Future US GDP Growth, pages 115-146, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Clément Bosquet & Paul Maarek & Elliot Moiteaux, 2021. "Routine-biased technological change and wages by education level: Occupational downgrading and displacement effects," Working Papers hal-03270715, HAL.
    6. Almeida, Andre & Figueiredo, Hugo & Cerejeira, João & Portela, Miguel & Sá, Carla & Teixeira, Pedro N., 2017. "Returns to Postgraduate Education in Portugal: Holding on to a Higher Ground?," IZA Discussion Papers 10676, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Bredemeier, Christian, 2019. "Gender Gaps in Pay and Inter-Firm Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 12785, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Gordon, Robert J., 2018. "Declining American economic growth despite ongoing innovation," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 1-12.
    9. Castex, Gonzalo & (Stanley) Cho, Sang-Wook & Dechter, Evgenia, 2022. "The decline in capital-skill complementarity," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 138(C).
    10. Robert J. Gordon, 2018. "Why Has Economic Growth Slowed When Innovation Appears to be Accelerating?," NBER Working Papers 24554, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Jeff Borland & Michael Coelli, 2023. "The Australian labour market and IT-enabled technological change," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2023n01, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    12. Gustavo Mellior, 2019. "Higher Education Funding, Welfare and Inequality in Equilibrium," Working Papers 202301, University of Liverpool, Department of Economics, revised 2023.
    13. David Pichler & Robert Stehrer, 2021. "Is ICT Still Polarising Labour Demand after the Crisis?," wiiw Working Papers 207, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, wiiw.
    14. Gallipoli, Giovanni & Makridis, Christos A., 2018. "Structural transformation and the rise of information technology," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 91-110.
    15. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2020. "Reconciling Changes in Wage Inequality With Changes in College Selectivity Using a Behavioral Model," CIRANO Working Papers 2020s-36, CIRANO.
    16. Peter Q. Blair & David J. Deming, 2020. "Structural Increases in Skill Demand after the Great Recession," NBER Working Papers 26680, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Yaroslav Kuzminov & Pavel Sorokin & Isak Froumin, 2019. "Generic and Specific Skills as Components of Human Capital: New Challenges for Education Theory and Practice," Foresight and STI Governance (Foresight-Russia till No. 3/2015), National Research University Higher School of Economics, vol. 13(2), pages 19-41.
    18. Alexey Gorn, "undated". "Passive Search and Jobless Recoveries," Working Papers 202113, University of Liverpool, Department of Economics.
    19. Korkut Alp Erturk, 2019. "Where Did Good Jobs Go? Acemoglu and Marx on Induced (Skill Replacing) Technical Change," Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, University of Utah 2019_02, University of Utah, Department of Economics.
    20. John McCollough & Ailian Qiu, 2021. "Rising repair costs and the throwaway society," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 284-298, June.
    21. McMahon, Walter W., 2018. "The total return to higher education: Is there underinvestment for economic growth and development?," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 90-111.
    22. Gordon, Robert J., 2018. "Why Has Economic Growth Slowed When Innovation Appears To Be Accelerating?," CEPR Discussion Papers 13039, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    23. Mr. Gee Hee Hong & Zsoka Koczan & Weicheng Lian & Mr. Malhar S Nabar, 2018. "More Slack than Meets the Eye? Recent Wage Dynamics in Advanced Economies," IMF Working Papers 2018/050, International Monetary Fund.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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