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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. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2000. "Is the stock market overvalued?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall, pages 20-40.
  2. Daron Acemoglu, 1998. "Why Do New Technologies Complement Skills? Directed Technical Change And Wage Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1055-1089, November.
  3. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 1997. "Capital-skill complementarity and inequality: a macroeconomic analysis," Staff Report 239, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Timothy Dunne & John Haltiwanger & Lucia Foster, 2000. "Wage and Productivity Dispersion in U.S. Manufacturing: The Role of Computer Investment," NBER Working Papers 7465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Markus Mobius & Raphael Schoenle, 2006. "The Evolution of Work," Working Papers 25, Brandeis University, Department of Economics and International Businesss School.
  6. Ingram, Beth F. & Neumann, George R., 2006. "The returns to skill," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 35-59, February.
  7. Charles Brown & James L. Medoff, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," NBER Working Papers 2870, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Griliches, Zvi, 1969. "Capital-Skill Complementarity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(4), pages 465-68, November.
  10. Michael Gort & Jeremy Greenwood & Peter Rupert, 1998. "Measuring the rate of technological progress in structures," Working Paper 9806, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  11. Francesco Caselli, 1999. "Technological Revolutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 78-102, March.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
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