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Explaining Women’s Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women’s Work

  • Black, Sandra E.

    ()

    (University of Texas at Austin)

  • Spitz-Oener, Alexandra

    ()

    (Humboldt University Berlin)

The closing of the gender wage gap is an ongoing phenomenon in industrialized countries. However, research has been limited in its ability to understand the causes of these changes, due in part to an inability to directly compare the work of women to that of men. In this study, we use a new approach for analyzing changes in the gender pay gap that uses direct measures of job tasks and gives a comprehensive characterization of how work for men and women has changed in recent decades. Using data from West Germany, we find that women have witnessed relative increases in non-routine analytic tasks and non-routine interactive tasks, which are associated with higher skill levels. The most notable difference between the genders is, however, the pronounced relative decline in routine task inputs among women with little change for men. These relative task changes explain a substantial fraction of the closing of the gender wage gap. Our evidence suggests that these task changes are driven, at least in part, by technological change. We also show that these task changes are related to the recent polarization of employment between low and high skilled occupations that we observed in the 1990s.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2803.

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Length: 44 pages
Date of creation: May 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Review of Economics and Statistics, 2010, 92(1), 187-194
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2803
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  1. Olivetti, Claudia & Petrongolo, Barbara, 2006. "Unequal Pay or Unequal Employment? A Cross-Country Analysis of Gender Gaps," IZA Discussion Papers 1941, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Fitzenberger, Bernd & Wunderlich, Gaby, 2000. "Gender wage differences in West Germany: a cohort analysis," ZEW Discussion Papers 00-48, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  4. Lucy Chennells & John Van Reenen, 1999. "Has technology hurt less skilled workers? A survey of the micro-econometric evidence," IFS Working Papers W99/27, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2006. "The Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 11986, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and lovely jobs: the rising polarization of work in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20002, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2001. "The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," NBER Working Papers 8337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2003. "Understanding International Differences in the Gender Pay Gap," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(1), pages 106-144, January.
  9. Chinhui Juhn & Sandra E. Black, 2000. "The Rise of Female Professionals: Are Women Responding to Skill Demand?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 450-455, May.
  10. Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2006. "Technical Change, Job Tasks, and Rising Educational Demands: Looking outside the Wage Structure," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 235-270, April.
  11. 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.
  12. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: the Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0604, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  13. Marigee Bacolod & Bernardo S. Blum, 2005. "Two Sides of the Same Coin: U.S. "Residual" Inequality and the Gender Gap," Working Papers 050617, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
  14. Bruce Weinberg, 1998. "Computer Use and the Demand for Women Workers," Working Papers 98-06, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  15. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  16. Finis Welch, 2000. "Growth in Women's Relative Wages and in Inequality among Men: One Phenomenon or Two?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 444-449, May.
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