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Specialization and the skill premium in the 20th century

  • Matthew F. Mitchell

The skill premium fell substantially in the first part of the 20th century, and then rose at the end of the century. I argue that these changes are connected to the organization of production. When production is organized into large plants, jobs become routinized, favoring less skilled workers. Building on the notion that numerically controlled machines made capital more “flexible” at the end of the century, the model allows for changes in the ability of capital to do a wide variety of tasks. When calibrated to data on the distribution of plant sizes, the model can account for between half and two-thirds of the movement in the skill premium over the century. It is also in accord with a variety of industry level evidence.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Staff Report with number 290.

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Date of creation: 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:290
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  1. Dunne, Timothy & Foster, Lucia & Haltiwanger, John C. & Troske, Kenneth, 2002. "Wage and Productivity Dispersion in U.S. Manufacturing: The Role of Computer Investment," IZA Discussion Papers 563, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. David Thesmar & Mathias Thoenig, 2000. "Creative Destruction and Firm Organization Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1201-1237.
  3. Michael Gort & Jeremy Greenwood & Peter Rupert, 1998. "Measuring the rate of technological progress in structures," Working Paper 9806, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  4. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1990. "The Economics of Modern Manufacturing: Technology, Strategy, and Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 511-28, June.
  5. 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.
  6. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2001. "Is the Stock Market Overvalued?," NBER Working Papers 8077, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:113:y:1998:i:4:p:1055-1089 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Markus Mobius & Raphael Schoenle, 2006. "The Evolution of Work," Working Papers 25, Brandeis University, Department of Economics and International Businesss School.
  9. Charles Brown & James L. Medoff, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," NBER Working Papers 2870, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. 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.
  11. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732.
  12. Ingram, Beth F. & Neumann, George R., 2006. "The returns to skill," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 35-59, February.
  13. Griliches, Zvi, 1969. "Capital-Skill Complementarity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(4), pages 465-68, November.
  14. Francesco Caselli, 1999. "Technological Revolutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 78-102, March.
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