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Upgrading or polarization? Occupational change in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, 1990-2008


  • Oesch, Daniel
  • Rodriguez Menes, Jorge


We analyze the pattern of occupational change over the last two decades in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland: which jobs have been expanding – high-paid jobs, low-paid jobs or both? Based on individual-level data, we examine what hypothesis is most consistent with the observed change: skill-biased technical change, routinization, skill supply evolution or wage-setting institutions? Our analysis reveals massive occupational upgrading that closely matches educational expansion: employment expanded most at the top of the occupational hierarchy, among managers and professionals. In parallel, mid-range occupations (clerks and production workers) declined relative to those at the bottom (interpersonal service workers). This U-shaped pattern of upgrading is consistent with the routinization hypothesis: technology seems a better substitute for average-paid clerical and manufacturing jobs than for low-end service employment. Yet country differences in low-paid service job creation suggest that wage-setting institutions play an important role, channelling technological change into more or less polarized patterns of upgrading.

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  • Oesch, Daniel & Rodriguez Menes, Jorge, 2010. "Upgrading or polarization? Occupational change in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, 1990-2008," MPRA Paper 21040, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:21040

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Andreas Beerli & Ronald Indergand, 2014. "Which Factors Drive the Skill-Mix of Migrants in the Long-Run?," Diskussionsschriften dp1501, Universitaet Bern, Departement Volkswirtschaft.
    3. Sandra Silva & Jorge Valente & Aurora Teixeira, 2012. "An evolutionary model of industry dynamics and firms’ institutional behavior with job search, bargaining and matching," Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, Springer;Society for Economic Science with Heterogeneous Interacting Agents, vol. 7(1), pages 23-61, May.
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    14. Bruno Funchal & Jandir Soares Junior, 2013. "Understanding demand for skylls after technological trade liberalization," Fucape Working Papers 40, Fucape Business School.
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    20. Martina Bisello, 2013. "Job polarization in Britain from a task-based perspective.Evidence from the UK Skills Surveys," Discussion Papers 2013/160, Dipartimento di Economia e Management (DEM), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
    21. V. Nellas & E. Olivieri, 2012. "The Change of Job Opportunities: the Role of Computerization and Institutions," Working Papers wp804, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    22. Pikos, Anna Katharina & Thomsen, Stephan L., 2015. "Tasks, Employment and Wages: An Analysis of the German Labor Market from 1979 to 2012," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 112929, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    23. David Brady & Thomas Biegert, 2017. "The Rise of Precarious Employment in Germany," LIS Working papers 708, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.

    More about this item


    employment; labour market institutions; technological change; inequality; occupations;

    JEL classification:

    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • P52 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems - - - Comparative Studies of Particular Economies

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