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Changes in Wage Inequality, 1970-1990

  • Jacob Mincer
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    Differences in wages between skill groups declined in the 1970's and rose in the 1980's, but aggregate wage inequality grew throughout the period. This divergence remains a puzzle in recent studies of U.S. wage inequality. In this paper the sometimes divergent paths of inter-group and intra-group inequality are explained by the human capital approach. In it, wages are the return on cumulated human capital investments. In turn, interpersonal distributions of investments and of marginal rates of return on them are determined by individual supply and demand curves. Recent studies have shown that relative growth of human capital supply in the 1970's and of demand in the 1980's generated the U-shaped time pattern of ( differentials. Argument and evidence in this paper show that a widening of dispersion among individual demand curves started in the 1970's and generated a continuous expansion of ( group demand curves reflects a growing skill bias in the demand for labor. Aggregate inequality grew throughout the period because within group inequality accounts for the larger part of total inequality. The data also indicate that wage inequality grew in the face of stability in the dispersion of human capital and despite the likely decline in inequality of opportunity, as reflected in the decline in dispersion among supply curves.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5823.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5823.

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    Date of creation: Nov 1996
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    Publication status: published as Economic Development, Growth of Human Capitol, and the Dynasty of the Wage Structure, "Journal of Economic Growth , Vol.16 (1997).
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5823
    Note: LS
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    1. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
    2. Jacob Mincer, 1994. "Investment in U.S. Education and Training," NBER Working Papers 4844, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Frank Levy, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 5076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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