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Earnings functions when wages and prices vary by location

  • Dan A. Black
  • Natalia A. Kolesnikova
  • Lowell J. Taylor

In this paper we study whether location-specific price variation likely affects statistical inference and theoretical interpretation in the empirical implementation of human capital earnings functions. We demonstrate, in a model of local labor markets, that the ?return to schooling" is a constant across locations if and only if preferences are homothetic ? a special case that seems unlikely to generally pertain. Examination of U.S. Census data (for 1980, 1990, and 2000) provides persuasive evidence that the return to a college education, relative to a high school education, does indeed vary widely across cities, e.g., in 1990 the return in Houston is 0.54 while in Seattle it is only 0.33. We provide theoretical reasons to suspect that the returns to education are relatively lower in expensive high-amenity locations, and present evidence consistent with this prediction. Finally, we raise concerns about standard empirical exercises in labor economics which treat the returns to education as a single parameter.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its series Working Papers with number 2007-031.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2007-031
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, . "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," Zell/Lurie Center Working Papers 382, Wharton School Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. Black, Dan & Sanders, Seth & Taylor, Lowell, 2003. "Measurement of Higher Education in the Census and Current Population Survey," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 98, pages 545-554, January.
  3. Gordon B. Dahl, 2002. "Mobility and the Return to Education: Testing a Roy Model with Multiple Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(6), pages 2367-2420, November.
  4. Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance John & Todd, Petra E., 2003. "Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions," IZA Discussion Papers 775, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  6. Stuart Gabriel & Stuart S. Rosenthal, 2003. "Quality of the Business Environment Versus Quality of Life: Do Firms and Households Like the Same Cities?," Working Paper 8615, USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.
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  9. Daron Acemoglu, 1996. "A Microfoundation for Social Increasing Returns in Human Capital Accumulation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 779-804.
  10. Kevin M. Murphy & Finis Welch, 1992. "The Structure of Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 285-326.
  11. Harvey S. Rosen, 1983. "Housing Subsidies: Effects on Housing Decisions, Efficiency, and Equity," NBER Working Papers 1161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1990. "School Quality and Black/White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," Working Papers 652, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  13. Glaeser, Edward L & Mare, David C, 2001. "Cities and Skills," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(2), pages 316-42, April.
  14. 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.
  15. Olsen, Edgar O., 1987. "The demand and supply of housing service: A critical survey of the empirical literature," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: E. S. Mills (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 25, pages 989-1022 Elsevier.
  16. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  17. Barry R. Chiswick, 1974. "Income Inequality: Regional Analyses within a Human Capital Framework," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number chis74-1.
  18. Harmon, Oskar R., 1988. "The income elasticity of demand for single-family owner-occupied housing: An empirical reconciliation," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 173-185, September.
  19. Joshua D. Angrist & Alan B. Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," NBER Working Papers 3572, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Roback, Jennifer, 1982. "Wages, Rents, and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1257-78, December.
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  22. Beeson, Patricia E., 1991. "Amenities and regional differences in returns to worker characteristics," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 224-241, September.
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