IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Inequality in Unemployment Risk and in Wages


  • Josep Pijoan-Mas


  • Hernan Ruffo


  • Claudio Michelacci



Distinguishing between the relative roles of skills and luck in the determination of wages is a main concern for economic policy. Variation in observed characteristics of workers and firms typically account for one third of total variance in wages in the US. Luck, as a result of frictions in the process of job search, might explain some of the remaining proportion, but search models can only fill a tiny part of this gap when calibrated to mean transition rates. The aim of this paper is to highlight the existence of heterogeneity in finding and separation rates and to show its impact on inequality. In particular, we first reassess the role of frictions in wage dispersion by introducing heterogeneity in unemployment risk, both as exogenous fixed heterogeneity and with some duration dependence. Secondly, to endogenize this heterogeneity, we borrow from Ljungqvist and Sargent (1998), extending it to account for endogenous separation, and build a quantitative search model with human capital accumulation. In this context, a job is valuable for the inexperienced worker not only because of the wage but also for the opportunity to accumulate skills. At the same time, the unemployment spell is damaging for an experienced worker not only because of the foregone earnings but also for the loss of human capital that it entails. Thus, reservation wages and transition rates depend on individual labor market histories. We calibrate the model to match the observed heterogeneity in finding and separation rates and show that the implied wage dispersion is almost the residual wage dispersion in the data. Furthermore, when we shock the model to account for the change in human capital accumulation process in the US economy, we are able to explain all of the increase in inequality over the last decades. We conclude that heterogeneity in unemployment risk and the incentives related to human capital accumulation and depreciation are main drivers of frictional wage dispersions.

Suggested Citation

  • Josep Pijoan-Mas & Hernan Ruffo & Claudio Michelacci, 2012. "Inequality in Unemployment Risk and in Wages," 2012 Meeting Papers 794, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed012:794

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2000. "Occupational Mobility and Wage Inequality, Second Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-026, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 15 Jun 2004.
    2. Meyer, Bruce D, 1990. "Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Spells," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(4), pages 757-782, July.
    3. Pierre Cahuc & Fabien Postel-Vinay & Jean-Marc Robin, 2006. "Wage Bargaining with On-the-Job Search: Theory and Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(2), pages 323-364, March.
    4. Mortensen, Dale & Pissarides, Christopher, 2011. "Job Creation and Job Destruction in the Theory of Unemployment," Economic Policy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, vol. 1, pages 1-19.
    5. Jacobson, Louis S & LaLonde, Robert J & Sullivan, Daniel G, 1993. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 685-709, September.
    6. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    7. Audra J. Bowlus & Jean-Marc Robin, 2004. "Twenty Years of Rising Inequality in U.S. Lifetime Labour Income Values," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(3), pages 709-742.
    8. Machado, José & Portugal, Pedro & Guimarães, Juliana, 2006. "U.S. Unemployment Duration: Has Long Become Longer or Short Become Shorter?," IZA Discussion Papers 2174, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 1998. "The European Unemployment Dilemma," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 514-550, June.
    10. Louis S. Jacobson & Robert J. LaLonde & Daniel G. Sullivan, 1993. "Long-term earnings losses of high-seniority displaced workers," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Nov, pages 2-20.
    11. J. J. McCall, 1970. "Economics of Information and Job Search," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(1), pages 113-126.
    12. Katz, Lawrence F. & Meyer, Bruce D., 1990. "The impact of the potential duration of unemployment benefits on the duration of unemployment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 45-72, February.
    13. Giovanni L. Violante, 2002. "Technological Acceleration, Skill Transferability, and the Rise in Residual Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 297-338.
    14. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
    15. Fabien Postel-Vinay & Jean-Marc Robin, 2002. "Equilibrium Wage Dispersion with Worker and Employer Heterogeneity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(6), pages 2295-2350, November.
    16. Eric D. Gould, 2002. "Rising Wage Inequality, Comparative Advantage, and the Growing Importance of General Skills in the United States," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 105-147, January.
    17. Giuseppe Moscarini, 2004. "Job-to-job quits and corporate culture," 2004 Meeting Papers 38, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    18. van den Berg, Gerard J & van Ours, Jan C, 1996. "Unemployment Dynamics and Duration Dependence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(1), pages 100-125, January.
    19. Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States: 1967-2006," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 15-51, January.
    20. Joseph G. Altonji & Nicolas Williams, 2005. "Do Wages Rise with Job Seniority? A Reassessment," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 58(3), pages 370-397, April.
    21. Andreas Hornstein & Per Krusell & Giovanni L. Violante, 2011. "Frictional Wage Dispersion in Search Models: A Quantitative Assessment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 2873-2898, December.
    22. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2009. "Occupational Mobility and Wage Inequality," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(2), pages 731-759.
    23. 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 410-442, June.
    24. Topel, Robert H, 1991. "Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 145-176, February.
    25. Robert H. Topel, 1997. "Factor Proportions and Relative Wages: The Supply-Side Determinants of Wage Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 55-74, Spring.
    26. Eva Nagypal & Zvi Eckstein, 2004. "US Earnings and Employment Dynamics 1961 - 2002: Facts and Interpretation," 2004 Meeting Papers 182, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    27. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Prescott, Edward C., 1974. "Equilibrium search and unemployment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 188-209, February.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:red:sed012:794. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Christian Zimmermann). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.