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Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority

  • Robert H. Topel

The idea that wages rise relative to alternatives as job seniority accumulates is the foundation of the theory of specific human capital, as well as other widely accepted theories of compensation. The fact that persons with longer job tenures typically earn higher wages tends to support these views, yet this evidence ignores the decisions that have brought individuals to the combination of wages, job tenure, and experience that are observed in survey data. Allowing for sources of bias generated by these decisions, this paper uses longitudinal data to estimate a lower bound on the avenge return to job seniority among adult men. I find that 10 years of current job seniority raises the wage of the typical male worker in the U.S. by over 25 percent. This is an estimate of what the typical worker would lose if his job were to end exogenously. Overall, the evidence implies that accumulation of specific capital is an important ingredient of the typical employment relationship, and of life-cycle earnings and productivity as well. Continuation of these relationships has substantial specific value for workers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3294.

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Date of creation: Mar 1990
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 99, pp.145-76, February 1991.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3294
Note: LS
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  1. Abraham, Katharine G & Farber, Henry S, 1987. "Job Duration, Seniority, and Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 278-97, June.
  2. Jacob Mincer, 1986. "Wage Changes in Job Changes," NBER Working Papers 1907, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Murphy, Kevin M & Welch, Finis, 1992. "The Structure of Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 285-326, February.
  9. Andrei Shleifer & Lawrence H. Summers, 1988. "Breach of Trust in Hostile Takeovers," NBER Chapters, in: Corporate Takeovers: Causes and Consequences, pages 33-68 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Mortensen, Dale T, 1988. "Wages, Separations, and Job Tenure: On-the-Job Specific Training or Matching?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(4), pages 445-71, October.
  11. Topel, Robert H & Ward, Michael P, 1992. "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 439-79, May.
  12. Marshall, Robert C & Zarkin, Gary A, 1987. "The Effect of Job Tenure on Wage Offers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(3), pages 301-24, July.
  13. Joseph G. Altonji & Robert A. Shakotko, 1985. "Do Wages Rise With Job Seniority?," NBER Working Papers 1616, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Sherwin Rosen, 1987. "Transactions Costs and Internal Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 2407, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 2002. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 88-97, January.
  16. Jacob Mincer, 1988. "Job Training, Wage Growth, and Labor Turnover," NBER Working Papers 2690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Finis Welch, 1979. "Effects of Cohort Size on Earnings: The Baby Boom Babies' Financial Bust," UCLA Economics Working Papers 146, UCLA Department of Economics.
  18. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-20, September.
  19. Jovanovic, Boyan, 1984. "Matching, Turnover, and Unemployment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(1), pages 108-22, February.
  20. Hall, Robert E, 1982. "The Importance of Lifetime Jobs in the U.S. Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(4), pages 716-24, September.
  21. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-64, October.
  22. Oi, Walter Y, 1983. "Heterogeneous Firms and the Organization of Production," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 21(2), pages 147-71, April.
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