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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
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:290
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  1. Charles Brown & James L. Medoff, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," NBER Working Papers 2870, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ingram, Beth F. & Neumann, George R., 2006. "The returns to skill," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 35-59, February.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Acemoglu, Daron, 1997. "Why Do New Technologies Complement Skills? Directed Technical Change and Wage Inequality," CEPR Discussion Papers 1707, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins Of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732, August.
  7. Markus Mobius & Raphael Schoenle, 2006. "The Evolution of Work," NBER Working Papers 12694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Francesco Caselli, 1999. "Technological Revolutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 78-102, March.
  10. Griliches, Zvi, 1969. "Capital-Skill Complementarity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(4), pages 465-68, November.
  11. Michael Gort & Jeremy Greenwood & Peter Rupert, 1999. "Measuring the Rate of Technological Progress in Structures," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(1), pages 207-230, January.
  12. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2001. "Is the Stock Market Overvalued?," NBER Working Papers 8077, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. David Thesmar & Mathias Thoenig, 2000. "Creative Destruction And Firm Organization Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1201-1237, November.
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