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Technological Change in the Production of Human Capital: Implications for Human Capital Stocks, Wages and Skill Differentials

  • Chris Robinson
  • Audra J. Bowlus

In this paper we explicitly model and estimate an education system that produces human capital. An important innovation is that technological change in the production functions associated with any level of education is permitted and the rate of change may be different at different levels and for different countries. Technological change is taken for granted for almost all other production functions, yet in most discussions of human capital including the current debate over widening skill differentials, it plays no role. It is rarely even discussed. The approach taken here is in the same spirit as recent work on estimating a true price series for computers based on an underlying constant standard of computations per second. An important part of the work is the choice of this standard for human capital. Individuals take the education system as given and choose paths of human capital investment to maximize lifetime wealth. The endogenous nature of human capital investment makes the human capital associated with any observed characteristic, such as years of schooling, reflective of selection effects as well as technological change effects. In this framework, an efficiency units model of human capital, amended to include technical change as well as selection, is consistent with the basic pattern of wages in the United States in the last three decades. New series on the human capital input (efficiency units) and the price of this input for 1976-2001 are computed, based on a cohort analysis that incorporates technical change and selection. The price series show s a substantial secular decline to the early 1990's followed by an increase to 2001. The efficiency units series include a breakdown by a variety of characteristics, including observed years of schooling. Together with the price series this determines a time path for any wage differential by any observed measures such as college attendance. A natural consequence of this framework is that changes in differentials such as that between college and high school will be cohort determined without reference to relative supplies. This is consistent with the recent evidence on this widening differential - that it is largely confined to recent cohorts.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2004 Meeting Papers with number 218.

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Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:218
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Marina Azzimonti Department of Economics Stonybrook University 10 Nicolls Road Stonybrook NY 11790 USA
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  1. James J. Heckman & Lance J. Lochner & Petra E. Todd, 2003. "Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions," NBER Working Papers 9732, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Hanushek, E-A & Rivkin, S-G & Taylor, L-L, 1995. "Aggregation and the Estimated Effects of School Resources," RCER Working Papers 397, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
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  8. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  9. Hanushek, Eric A, 1986. "The Economics of Schooling: Production and Efficiency in Public Schools," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1141-77, September.
  10. Greenwood, Jeremy & Hercowitz, Zvi & Krusell, Per, 1997. "Long-Run Implications of Investment-Specific Technological Change," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 342-62, June.
  11. Gary Solon & Robert Barsky & Jonathan A. Parker, 1992. "Measuring the Cyclicality of Real Wages: How Important is Composition Bias," NBER Working Papers 4202, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Richard Blundell & Howard Reed & Thomas M. Stoker, 2003. "Interpreting Aggregate Wage Growth: The Role of Labor Market Participation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1114-1131, September.
  13. Hansen, G.D., 1991. "The Cyclical and Secular Behavior of the Labor Input : Comparing Efficiency Units and Hours Worked," Papers 36, California Los Angeles - Applied Econometrics.
  14. Bils, Mark J, 1985. "Real Wages over the Business Cycle: Evidence from Panel Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(4), pages 666-89, August.
  15. Audra Bowlus & Haoming Liu & Chris Robinson, 2002. "Business Cycle Models, Aggregation, and Real Wage Cyclicality," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(2), pages 308-335, Part.
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