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Wage Inequality and Industrial Change: Evidence from Five Decades

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  • Chinhui Juhn

Abstract

Using data from the 1940-1980 Decennial Census and the 1988-1992 March Current Population Surveys, this paper examines the impact of industrial change on male wage inequality over a period of five decades (1940-1990). Alternative measures of skill such as the wage percentile, education and occupation indicate that wage inequality between more and less skilled male workers fell substantially during the 1940s and increased most dramatically during the 1980s. Examination of industrial change over this longer time period shows that the demand for the most highly educated and skilled male workers relative to the least skilled male workers increased no faster during the 1970s and the 1980s than during the earlier decades. In contrast, the demand for men in the middle skill categories (such as those in basic manufacturing) expanded during the 1940s and the 1950s and contracted severely during the 1970s and 1980s. This suggests that the growth of jobs in the middle skill categories may be closely related to overall wage inequality. Cross sectional regressions based on state level data also show some empirical support for the hypothesis that a decline in demand for medium skilled groups increases overall wage inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Chinhui Juhn, 1994. "Wage Inequality and Industrial Change: Evidence from Five Decades," NBER Working Papers 4684, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4684
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    1. Richard B. Freeman, 1975. "Overinvestment in College Training?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 10(3), pages 287-311.
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    Cited by:

    1. David A. Green & Benjamin M. Sand, 2015. "Has the Canadian labour market polarized?," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 48(2), pages 612-646, May.
    2. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
    3. Randall W. Eberts & Christopher J. O'Leary, 1996. "Design of the Worker Profiling and Reemployment Services System and Evaluation in Michigan," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 96-41, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    4. Angel de la Fuente & Antonio Ciccone, 2003. "Human capital in a global and knowledge-based economy," Working Papers 70, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    5. Autor, David & Dorn, David, 2009. "Inequality and Specialization: The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs in the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 4290, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
    7. Peter Gottschalk & Mary Joyce, 1995. "Is Earnings Inequality Also Rising in Other Industrialized Countries? -- the Role of Institutional Constraints," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 306., Boston College Department of Economics.
    8. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
    9. J. Bound & Harry J. Holzer, "undated". "Structural changes, employment outcomes, and population adjustments among whites and blacks: 1980-1990," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1057-95, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    10. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Trends in U. S. Wage Inequality: Re-Assessing the Revisionists," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2095, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    11. Bound, John & Holzer, Harry J, 2000. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 20-54, January.
    12. Acemoglu, Daron & Autor, David, 2011. "Skills, Tasks and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    13. Peter Gottschalk & Mary Joyce, 1998. "Cross-National Differences In The Rise In Earnings Inequality: Market And Institutional Factors," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(4), pages 489-502, November.
    14. Bresnahan, Timothy F, 1999. "Computerisation and Wage Dispersion: An Analytical Reinterpretation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(456), pages 390-415, June.
    15. Susan N. Houseman, "undated". "Job Growth and the Quality of Jobs in the U.S. Economy," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles snh19951, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    16. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2006. "The Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 189-194, May.
    17. David S. Loughran, 2000. "Does Variance Matter? The Effect of Rising Male Inequality on Female Age at First Marriage," Working Papers 00-12, RAND Corporation.
    18. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1995. "The Decline of Non-Competing Groups: Changes in the Premium to Education, 1890 to 1940," NBER Working Papers 5202, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Gregg, Paul & Manning, Alan, 1997. "Skill-biassed change, unemployment and wage inequality," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 1173-1200, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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