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Do Male-Female Wage Differentials Reflect Differences in the Return to Skill? Cross-City Evidence From 1980-2000

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  • Paul Beaudry
  • Ethan Lewis

Abstract

Over the 1980s and 1990s the wage differentials between men and women (with similar observable characteristics) declined significantly. At the same time, the returns to education increased. It has been suggested that these two trends may reflect a common change in the relative price of a skill which is more abundant in both women and more educated workers. In this paper we explore the relevance of this hypothesis by examining the cross-city co-movement in both male-female wage differentials and returns to education over the 1980-2000 period. In parallel to the aggregate pattern, we find that male-female wage differentials at the city levels moved in opposite direction to the changes in the return to education. We also find this relationship to be particularly strong when we isolate data variation which most likely reflects the effect of technological change on relative prices. We take considerable care of controlling for potential selection issues which could bias our interpretation. Overall, our cross-city estimates suggest that most of the aggregate reduction in the male-female wage differential observed over the 1980-2000 period was likely due to a change in the relative price of skill that both females and educated workers have in greater abundance.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Beaudry & Ethan Lewis, 2012. "Do Male-Female Wage Differentials Reflect Differences in the Return to Skill? Cross-City Evidence From 1980-2000," NBER Working Papers 18159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18159
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Mark Doms & Ethan Lewis, 2006. "Labor supply and personal computer adoption," Working Paper Series 2006-18, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 730-770, August.
    4. 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.
    5. Blau, Francine D & Kahn, Lawrence M, 1997. "Swimming Upstream: Trends in the Gender Wage Differential in 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 1-42, January.
    6. 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.
    7. Paul Beaudry & Mark Doms & Ethan Lewis, 2010. "Should the Personal Computer Be Considered a Technological Revolution? Evidence from U.S. Metropolitan Areas," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(5), pages 988-1036.
    8. O'Neill, June & Polachek, Solomon, 1993. "Why the Gender Gap in Wages Narrowed in the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages 205-228, January.
    9. Martha J. Bailey & Brad Hershbein & Amalia R. Miller, 2012. "The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 225-254, July.
    10. Martha J. Bailey, 2006. "More Power to the Pill: The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women's Life Cycle Labor Supply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(1), pages 289-320.
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    1. Pay gaps, computers, and the public sector
      by Eric Crampton in Offsetting Behaviour on 2014-04-07 00:00:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Lordan, Grace & Pischke, Jörn-Steffen, 2016. "Does Rosie like riveting? Male and female occupational choices," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 67682, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. repec:aea:jeclit:v:55:y:2017:i:3:p:789-865 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Vahagn Jerbashian, 2016. "Automation and Job Polarization: On the Decline of Middling Occupations in Europe," UB Economics Working Papers 2016/348, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat d'Economia i Empresa, UB Economics.
    4. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2017. "The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 55(3), pages 789-865, September.
    5. Shulamit Kahn & Donna Ginther, 2017. "Women and STEM," NBER Working Papers 23525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Joanne Lindley & Stephen Machin, 2016. "The Rising Postgraduate Wage Premium," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 83(330), pages 281-306, April.
    7. Riphahn & Caroline Schwientek, 2015. "What drives the reversal of the gender education gap? Evidence from Germany," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(53), pages 5748-5775, November.
    8. Claudia Olivetti & Barbara Petrongolo, 2016. "The Evolution of Gender Gaps in Industrialized Countries," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 8(1), pages 405-434, October.
    9. Estrin, Saul & Stephan, Ute & Vujic, Suncica, 2014. "Do Women Earn Less Even as Social Entrepreneurs?," IZA Discussion Papers 8650, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Aline Bütikofer & Giovanni Peri, 2017. "Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills and the Selection and Sorting of Migrants," NBER Working Papers 23877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. MORIKAWA Masayuki, 2013. "Postgraduate Education, Labor Participation, and Wages: An empirical analysis using micro data from Japan," Discussion papers 13065, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    12. Ben Sand & Chris Bidner, 2016. "Job Prospects and Pay Gaps: Theory and Evidence on the Gender Gap from U.S. Cities," Discussion Papers dp16-14, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
    13. Ohad Raveh, 2015. "Capital-Gender Complementarity," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 35(1), pages 494-506.
    14. Todd Stinebrickner & Ralph Stinebrickner & Paul Sullivan, 2018. "Job Tasks and the Gender Wage Gap among College Graduates," Working Papers 2018-062, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    15. David J. Deming, 2015. "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 21473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Chinhui Juhn & Kristin McCue, 2017. "Specialization Then and Now: Marriage, Children, and the Gender Earnings Gap across Cohorts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(1), pages 183-204, Winter.
    17. Chang-Tai Hsieh & Erik Hurst & Charles I. Jones & Peter J. Klenow, 2013. "The Allocation of Talent and U.S. Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 18693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Olivetti, Claudia & Petrongolo, Barbara, 2016. "The evolution of the gender gap in industrialized countries," CEPR Discussion Papers 11034, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    19. Bando, Rosangela & López Bóo, Florencia, 2016. "Sex-Differences in Language and Socio-Emotional Skills: Evidence from Large Scale Studies of Very Young Children," IZA Discussion Papers 10315, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • 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
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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