IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/iza/izadps/dp4290.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Inequality and Specialization: The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs in the United States

Author

Listed:
  • Autor, David

    (MIT)

  • Dorn, David

    (University of Zurich)

Abstract

After a decade in which wages and employment fell precipitously in low-skill occupations and expanded in high-skill occupations, the shape of U.S. earnings and job growth sharply polarized in the 1990s. Employment shares and relative earnings rose in both low and high-skill jobs, leading to a distinct U-shaped relationship between skill levels and employment and wage growth. This paper analyzes the sources of the changing shape of the lower-tail of the U.S. wage and employment distributions. A first contribution is to document a hitherto unknown fact: the twisting of the lower tail is substantially accounted for by a single proximate cause ? rising employment and wages in low-education, in-person service occupations. We study the determinants of this rise at the level of local labor markets over the period of 1950 through 2005. Our approach is rooted in a model of changing task specialization in which "routine" clerical and production tasks are displaced by automation. We find that in labor markets that were initially specialized in routine-intensive occupations, employment and wages polarized after 1980, with growing employment and earnings in both high-skill occupations and low-skill service jobs.

Suggested Citation

  • Autor, David & Dorn, David, 2009. "Inequality and Specialization: The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs in the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 4290, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4290
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://ftp.iza.org/dp4290.pdf
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. DiNardo, John & Fortin, Nicole M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1001-1044, September.
    2. Stephen D. Oliner & Daniel E. Sichel, 2000. "The Resurgence of Growth in the Late 1990s: Is Information Technology the Story?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 3-22, Fall.
    3. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    4. Chinhui Juhn, 1999. "Wage Inequality and Demand for Skill: Evidence from Five Decades," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(3), pages 424-443, April.
    5. Peter B. Meyer & Anastasiya M. Osborne, 2005. "Proposed Category System for 1960-2000 Census Occupations," Working Papers 383, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    6. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    7. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, 2005. "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(2), pages 345-375, April.
    8. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
    9. L. Rachel Ngai & Christopher A. Pissarides, 2007. "Structural Change in a Multisector Model of Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 429-443, March.
    10. Francesca Mazzolari & Giuseppe Ragusa, 2013. "Spillovers from High-Skill Consumption to Low-Skill Labor Markets," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(1), pages 74-86, March.
    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. Michaels, Guy, 2007. "The division of labor, coordination, and the demand for information processing," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3251, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    13. Paul Beaudry & David A. Green, 2003. "Wages and Employment in the United States and Germany: What Explains the Differences?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 573-602, June.
    14. Simon, Curtis J., 2004. "Industrial reallocation across US cities, 1977-1997," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 119-143, July.
    15. 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.
    16. Paul Beaudry & Mark Doms & Ethan Lewis, 2006. "Endogenous Skill Bias in Technology Adoption: City-Level Evidence from the IT Revolution," NBER Working Papers 12521, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Chinhui Juhn, 1994. "Wage Inequality and Industrial Change: Evidence from Five Decades," NBER Working Papers 4684, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Weiss, Matthias, 2008. "Skill-biased technological change: Is there hope for the unskilled?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 439-441, September.
    19. Alan Manning, 2004. "We Can Work It Out: The Impact of Technological Change on the Demand for Low‐Skill Workers," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 51(5), pages 581-608, November.
    20. Christian Dustmann & Johannes Ludsteck & Uta Schönberg, 2009. "Revisiting the German Wage Structure," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 843-881.
    21. 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.
    22. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
    23. Giovanni Peri & Chad Sparber, 2007. "Task Specialization, Comparative Advantages, and the Effects of Immigration on Wages," NBER Working Papers 13389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    24. Tolbert, Charles M., II & Killian, Molly Sizer, 1987. "Labor Market Areas for the United States," Staff Reports 277959, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    25. Alan Manning, 2004. "We Can Work It Out: the Impact of Technological Change on the Demand for Low Skill Workers," CEP Discussion Papers dp0640, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    26. David A. Jaeger & Susanna Loeb & Sarah E. Turner & John Bound, 1998. "Coding Geographic Areas Across Census Years: Creating Consistent Definitions of Metropolitan Areas," NBER Working Papers 6772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Acemoglu, Daron & Autor, David, 2011. "Skills, Tasks and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 12, pages 1043-1171, Elsevier.
    2. David H. Autor & David Dorn, 2013. "The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1553-1597, August.
    3. 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.
    4. Charlotte Senftleben-König & Hanna Wielandt, 2014. "The Polarization of Employment in German Local Labor Markets," Working Papers 2014007, Berlin Doctoral Program in Economics and Management Science (BDPEMS).
    5. Dirk Antonczyk & Thomas DeLeire & Bernd Fitzenberger, 2018. "Polarization and Rising Wage Inequality: Comparing the U.S. and Germany," Econometrics, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(2), pages 1-33, April.
    6. Zsófia L. Bárány & Christian Siegel, 2018. "Job Polarization and Structural Change," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 57-89, January.
    7. Antonczyk Dirk & Leuschner Ute & Fitzenberger Bernd, 2009. "Can a Task-Based Approach Explain the Recent Changes in the German Wage Structure?," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 229(2-3), pages 214-238, April.
    8. David H. Autor & Michael J. Handel, 2013. "Putting Tasks to the Test: Human Capital, Job Tasks, and Wages," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 59-96.
    9. Ariell Reshef, 2013. "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(2), pages 312-331, April.
    10. Zsófia L. Bárány & Christian Siegel, 2018. "Job Polarization and Structural Change," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 57-89, January.
    11. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning & Anna Salomons, 2014. "Explaining Job Polarization: Routine-Biased Technological Change and Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(8), pages 2509-2526, August.
    12. Salverda, Wiemer & Checchi, Daniele, 2014. "Labour-Market Institutions and the Dispersion of Wage Earnings," IZA Discussion Papers 8220, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    13. Leonardi, Marco, 2010. "The Effect of Product Demand on Inequality: Evidence from the US and the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 5011, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    14. Ariell Reshef, 2013. "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(2), pages 312-331, April.
    15. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
    16. Jaewon Jung & Jean Mercenier, 2010. "Routinization-Biased Technical Change, Globalization and Labor Market Polarization: Does Theory Fit the Facts?," Working Papers 13/2010, University of Verona, Department of Economics.
    17. Martina Bisello, 2013. "Job polarization in Britain from a task-based perspective.Evidence from the UK Skills Surveys," Discussion Papers 2013/160, Dipartimento di Economia e Management (DEM), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
    18. Stephan Kampelmann & François Rycx, 2013. "The Dynamics Of Task-Biased Technological Change :The Case Of Occupations," Brussels Economic Review, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, vol. 56(2), pages 113-142.
    19. Wielandt, Hanna & Senftleben, Charlotte, 2012. "The Polarization of Employment in German Local Labor Markets," VfS Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62063, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    20. Hemous, David & Olsen, Morten, 2014. "The Rise of the Machines: Automation, Horizontal Innovation and Income Inequality," CEPR Discussion Papers 10244, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    inequality; polarization; occupational choice; skill demand; technological change; job tasks;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4290. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/izaaade.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Holger Hinte (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/izaaade.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.