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The Changing Structure of Wages in the US and Germany: What Explains the Differences?

  • Paul Beaudry
  • David Green

Over the last twenty years the wage-education relationships in the US and Germany have evolved very differently, while the education composition of employment has evolved in a surprisingly parallel fashion. In this paper, we propose and test an explanation to these conflicting patterns. The model we present has two important elements: (1) technological change arises in the form of an alternative production process as opposed to being in the factor augmenting form, which renders technological adoption endogenous, (2) aggregate production depends on three factors (physical capital, human capital and labor). Based on this framework, we show why imbalances in the accumulation of human versus physical capital will be especially detrimental to low skill workers when the new technology is skill-biased and exhibits capital-skill complementarity. Using matched files from the PSID (US) and the GSOEP (Germany), we demonstrate how factor movements within these countries are associated with wage changes that are strongly supportive of our endogenous technological adoption model. Our conclusion is that the difference in the US and German experiences appear driven by the US having under-accumulated physical capital relative human capital over the 1979-96 period, while Germany accumulated factors in a more balanced manner.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7697.

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Date of creation: May 2000
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Publication status: published as Beaudry, Paul and David A. Green. "Wages And Employment In The United States And Germany: What Explains The Difference?," American Economic Review, 2003, v93(3,Jun), 573-602.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7697
Note: LS
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  1. Richard B. Freeman & Ronald Schettkat, 1999. "The Role of Wage and Skill Differences in US-German Employment Differences," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Department of Statistics and Economics, vol. 219(1+2), pages 49-66, July.
  2. Francesco Caselli, 1999. "Technological Revolutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 78-102, March.
  3. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Manuel Trajtenberg, 1992. "General Purpose Technologies "Engines of Growth?"," NBER Working Papers 4148, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Zeira, Joseph, 1995. "Workers, Machines and Economic Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 1139, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Daron Acemoglu, 1998. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," NBER Working Papers 6658, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Paul Beaudry & David Green, 1998. "What is Driving US and Canadian Wages: Exogenous Technical Change or Endogenous Choice of Technique?," NBER Working Papers 6853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. David Card & Francis Kramarz & Thomas Lemieux, 1996. "Changes in the Relative Structure of Wages and Employment: A Comparison of the United States, Canada, and France," NBER Working Papers 5487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 1997. "Capital-skill complementarity and inequality: a macroeconomic analysis," Staff Report 239, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  10. Moulton, Brent R., 1986. "Random group effects and the precision of regression estimates," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 385-397, August.
  11. Krueger, A. & Pischke, J.S., 1997. "Observations and Conjectures on the U.S. Employment Miracle," Working papers 97-15, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  12. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "The Returns to Skill in the United States across the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 7126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Daron Acemoglu, 2001. "Directed Technical Change," NBER Working Papers 8287, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization, And The Demand For Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 339-376, February.
  15. Duranton, Gilles, 2004. "The economics of production systems: Segmentation and skill-biased change," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 307-336, April.
  16. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1996. "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," NBER Working Papers 5657, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Peter Gottschalk & Timothy M. Smeeding, 1997. "Cross-National Comparisons of Earnings and Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 633-687, June.
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