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Computers and the Wage Structure

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  • Michael J. Handel

Abstract

A leading explanation for the rapid growth in U.S. wage inequality in the last twenty years, consistent with both human capital and postindustrial theories, is that advanced technology has increased job skill requirements and reduced the demand for less skilled workers. Krueger's study (1993) showing a wage premium associated with using computers at work is one of the few that seems to provide direct supportive evidence. In this paper I use previously unexamined data to suggest that measured returns to computer use are upwardly biased. In addition, I find that most of the growth of inequality since 1979 occurred in the early 1980s, which is inconsistent with a primary role for computers. Finally, computer use at work had equalizing impacts on the gender wage gap and elsewhere in the wage distribution, as well as disequalizing impacts on the wage gaps between education groups. When the contribution of computer use to all components of the variance of wages is taken into account, computers seem to have had a net equalizing impact in the period Krueger studied. This casts significant doubt on this technology-based explanation of the growth in wage inequality.

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  • Michael J. Handel, 1999. "Computers and the Wage Structure," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_285, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_285
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 1997. "Institutional Changes and Rising Wage Inequality: Is There a Linkage?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 75-96, Spring.
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    4. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    5. David Autor & Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1997. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," Working Papers 756, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    6. Dunne, Timothy & Haltiwanger, John & Troske, Kenneth R., 1997. "Technology and jobs: secular changes and cyclical dynamics," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 107-178, June.
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    8. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-266, May.
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    10. repec:mes:challe:v:38:y:1995:i:1:p:27-35 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. John E. DiNardo & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 1997. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 291-303.
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    13. repec:fth:prinin:377 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael J. Handel, "undated". "Is There a Skills Crisis? Trends in Job Skill Requirements, Technology, and Wage Inequality in the United States," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_62, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. David R. Howell & Margaret Duncan & Bennett Harrison, 1998. "Low Wages in the US and High Unemployment in Europe: A Critical Assessment of the Conventional Wisdom," SCEPA working paper series. SCEPA's main areas of research are macroeconomic policy, inequality and poverty, and globalization. 1998-01, Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA), The New School, revised Aug 1998.
    3. Borghans L. & Weel B. ter, 2000. "How computerizaton changes the UK Labour Market: The Facts viewed from a new Perspective," ROA Working Paper 010, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
    4. Chris N. Sakellariou & Harry A. Patrinos, 2004. "Technology, computers and wages: evidence from a developing economy," Brussels Economic Review, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, vol. 47(3-4), pages 543-543.
    5. Chris Sakellariou, 2009. "Endogeneity, computers, language skills and wages among university graduates in Vietnam," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(5), pages 653-663.

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