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

  • David H. Autor
  • Michael J. Handel

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15116.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as 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 S59 - S96.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15116
Note: LS
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