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Inter-Industry Wage Differences and Theories of Wage Determination

  • William T. Dickens
  • Lawrence F. Katz

Numerous studies have shown large differences in wages for apparently similar workers across industries. These findings pose a challenge to standard model s of labor market behavior. A problem with past studies of industry wage differences is that they have failed to distinguish between union and nonunion workers. Many economists may expect union workers wages to be set in a noncompetitive fashion but would be surprised if nonunion wages were. We examine the differences in wages across industries for both union and nonunion workers. We find that even after controlling for a wide range of personal characteristics and geographic location large wage differences persist for both union and nonunion workers. Furthermore the premiums of union and nonunion workers are highly correlated. We review past studies which demonstrate that industry wage premiums are also highly correlated across countries and have been very similar over many decades. We present new evidence that the wages of different occupations are highly correlated across industries -- that is if any occupation in an industry is highly paid all occupations are. We also review the evidence which suggests that people who move from low to high paying industries receive a large fraction of the industry wage premium and that those who move from high to low paying industries lose the premium. Finally, we review the evidence on the correlates of industry wage differences. Quit rates, human capital variables, capital labor ratios and market power measures are all positively correlated with industry wage differences individually though the data are not adequate to determine their independent contributions in multiple regression. On the basis of all the evidence we conclude that standard labor market clearing models can not easily explain all the facts. Several alternative models are discussed including efficiency wage and collective action threat mode1 s. These are found to be more consistent with the facts though some troubling problems remain.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2271.

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Date of creation: Jun 1987
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2271
Note: LS
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  1. Jeremy I. Bulow & Lawrence H. Summers, 1985. "A Theory of Dual Labor Markets with Application to Industrial Policy, Discrimination and Keynesian Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 1666, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  4. Weiss, Andrew W, 1980. "Job Queues and Layoffs in Labor Markets with Flexible Wages," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(3), pages 526-38, June.
  5. William T. Dickens & Lawrence F. Katz, 1986. "Interindustry Wage Differences and Industry Characteristics," NBER Working Papers 2014, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  11. Lindbeck, Assar & Snower, Dennis J, 1986. "Wage Setting, Unemployment, and Insider-Outsider Relations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 235-39, May.
  12. Pradeep Kumar, 1972. "Differentials in wage rates of unskilled labor in Canadian manufacturing industries," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 26(1), pages 631-645, October.
  13. Brown, Charles & Medoff, James, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1027-59, October.
  14. Yellen, Janet L, 1984. "Efficiency Wage Models of Unemployment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 200-205, May.
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  16. Lawrence F. Katz, 1986. "Efficiency Wage Theories: A Partial Evaluation," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1986, Volume 1, pages 235-290 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Henry S. Farber, 1983. "Right-to-Work Laws and the Extent of Unionization," NBER Working Papers 1136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Krueger, Alan B & Summers, Lawrence H, 1988. "Efficiency Wages and the Inter-industry Wage Structure," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 259-93, March.
  19. Piore, Michael J, 1973. "Fragments of a "Sociological" Theory of Wages," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 377-84, May.
  20. Freeman, Richard B, 1980. "The Exit-Voice Tradeoff in the Labor Market: Unionism, Job Tenure, Quits, and Separations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 643-73, June.
  21. Murphy, Kevin M & Welch, Finis, 1992. "The Structure of Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 285-326, February.
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  24. John E. Kwoka & Jr, 1983. "Monopoly, plant, and union effects on worker wages," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 36(2), pages 251-257, January.
  25. Leonard, Jonathan S, 1987. "Carrots and Sticks: Pay, Supervision, and Turnover," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(4), pages S136-52, October.
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  28. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1984. "Theories of Wage Rigidity," NBER Working Papers 1442, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  29. Solow, Robert M., 1979. "Another possible source of wage stickiness," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 79-82.
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