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Ben-Porath meets skill-biased technical change: a theoretical analysis of rising inequality

  • Fatih Guvenen
  • Burhanettin Kuruscu

In this paper we present an analytically tractable general equilibrium overlapping-generations model of human capital accumulation, and study its implications for the evolution of the U.S. wage distribution from 1970 to 2000. The key feature of the model, and the only source of heterogeneity, is that individuals differ in their ability to accumulate human capital. Therefore, wage inequality results only from differences in human capital accumulation. We examine the response of this model to skill-biased technical change (SBTC) theoretically. We show that in response to SBTC, the model generates behavior consistent with the U.S. data including (i) a rise in overall wage inequality in both the short run and long run, (ii) an initial fall in the education premium followed by a strong recovery, leading to a higher premium in the long run, (iii) the fact that most of this fall and rise takes place among younger workers, (iv) stagnation in median wage growth (and a slowdown in aggregate labor productivity), and (v) a rise in consumption inequality that is much smaller than the rise in wage inequality. These results suggest that the heterogeneity in the ability to accumulate human capital is an important feature for understanding the effects of SBTC, and interpreting the transformation that the U.S. economy has gone through since the 1970s.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics with number 144.

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Date of creation: 2006
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmem:144
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  1. Acemoglu, D., 1997. "Why Do New Technologies Complement Skills? Directed Technical Change and Wage Inequality," Working papers 97-14, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. 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.
  3. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Rising Wage Inequality: The Role of Composition and Prices," NBER Working Papers 11628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
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  7. Heckman, James J, 1976. "A Life-Cycle Model of Earnings, Learning, and Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S11-44, August.
  8. Fatih Guvenen, 2005. "An Empirical Investigation of Labor Income Processes," Macroeconomics 0508026, EconWPA.
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  10. Mark Huggett & Gustavo Ventura & Amir Yaron, 2010. "Sources of Lifetime Inequality," Working Papers 2011-020, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
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  12. James Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explanations With A Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings With Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(1), pages 1-58, January.
  13. Fatih Guvenen, 2006. "Learning your earning: are labor income shocks really very persistent?," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 145, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  14. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Trends in U. S. Wage Inequality: Re-Assessing the Revisionists," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2095, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Baker, Michael, 1997. "Growth-Rate Heterogeneity and the Covariance Structure of Life-Cycle Earnings," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(2), pages 338-75, April.
  18. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
  19. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  20. Orazio Attanasio & Erich Battistin & Hidehiko Ichimura, 2004. "What Really Happened to Consumption Inequality in the US?," NBER Working Papers 10338, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  22. Aghion, Philippe & Howitt, Peter & Violante†, Giovanni L., 2002. "General Purpose Technology and Wage Inequality," Scholarly Articles 12490369, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  23. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  24. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 1998. "Ability Biased Technological Transition, Wage Inequality, and Economic Growth," Working Papers 98-14, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  25. Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2006. "Training and Lifetime Income," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 832-846, June.
  26. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
  27. Violante, Giovanni L, 2001. "Technological Acceleration, Skill Transferability and the Rise in Residual Inequality," CEPR Discussion Papers 2765, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  28. Aghion, Philippe & Howitt, Peter & Violante, Giovanni L, 2002. " General Purpose Technology and Wage Inequality," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 315-45, December.
  29. 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.
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