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Firms as Learning Environments: Implications for Earnings Dynamics and Job Search

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  • Victoria Gregory

Abstract

This paper demonstrates that heterogeneity in firms’ promotion of human capital accumulation is an important determinant of life-cycle earnings inequality. I use administrative micro data from Germany to show that different establishments offer systematically different earnings growth rates for their workers. This observation suggests that that the increase in inequality over the life cycle reflects not only inherent worker variation, but also differences in the firms that workers happen to match with over their lifetimes. To quantify this channel, I develop a life-cycle search model with heterogeneous workers and firms. In the model, a worker’s earnings can grow through both human capital accumulation and labor market competition channels. Human capital growth depends on both the worker’s ability and the firm’s learning environment. I find that heterogeneity in firm learning environments account for 40% of the increase in cross-sectional earnings variance over the life cycle, and that this mechanism is especially important for young workers. I then show that differences in labor market histories partially shape the worker-specific income profiles estimated by reduced-form statistical earnings processes. Finally, because young workers do not fully internalize the benefits of matching to high-growth firms, changes to the structure of unemployment insurance policies can incentivize these workers to search for better matches.

Suggested Citation

  • Victoria Gregory, 2020. "Firms as Learning Environments: Implications for Earnings Dynamics and Job Search," Working Papers 2020-036, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, revised 28 Jan 2021.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:88971
    DOI: 10.20955/wp.2020.036
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    Cited by:

    1. Ma, Xiao & Nakab, Alejandro, 2020. "Comparative Advantage and Human Capital: A Cross-country Quantitative Analysis," MPRA Paper 110267, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 2020.
    2. Jaime Arellano-Bover, 2022. "The Effect of Labor Market Conditions at Entry on Workers' Long-Term Skills," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 104(5), pages 1028-1045, December.
    3. Fatih Karahan & Serdar Ozkan & Jae Song, 2019. "Anatomy of Lifetime Earnings Inequality: Heterogeneity in Job Ladder Risk vs. Human Capital," Staff Reports 908, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    4. Xiao Ma & Alejandro Nakab & Daniela Vidart, 2021. "Human Capital Investment and Development: The Role of On-the-job Training," Working papers 2021-10, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, revised Aug 2022.
    5. Arellano-Bover, Jaime & Saltiel, Fernando, 2021. "Differences in On-the-Job Learning across Firms," IZA Discussion Papers 14473, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Ma, Xiao & Muendler, Marc-Andreas & Nakab, Alejandro, 2020. "Learning by Exporting and Wage Profiles: New Evidence from Brazil," MPRA Paper 109497, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 31 Aug 2021.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    human capital; earnings dynamics; firms; inequality; search; labor markets;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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