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Putting Tasks to the Test: Human Capital, Job Tasks and Wages

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  • David H. Autor
  • Michael J. Handel

Abstract

Employing original, representative survey data, we document that cognitive, interpersonal and physical job task demands can be measured with high validity using standard interview techniques. Job tasks vary substantially within and between occupations, are significantly related to workers' characteristics, and are robustly predictive of wage differentials both between occupations and among workers in the same occupation. We offer a conceptual framework that makes explicit the causal links between human capital endowments, occupational assignment, job tasks, and wages. This framework motivates a Roy (1951) model of the allocation of workers to occupations. Tests of the model's implication that 'returns to tasks' must negatively covary among occupations are strongly supported.

Suggested Citation

  • David H. Autor & Michael J. Handel, 2009. "Putting Tasks to the Test: Human Capital, Job Tasks and Wages," NBER Working Papers 15116, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15116
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • 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

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