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Occupational Complexity, Experience, and the Gender Wage Gap

  • Elisa Keller

    (University of Iowa)

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    I explore the role of individuals' skills and work experience in explaining the gender wage gap across occupations. I use the O*NET dataset to build an index of occupational complexity: the ratio of abstract to manual tasks. The ratio of female to male wages is U-shaped across occupations ordered by increasing complexity. The U-shape flattens over the lifecycle and across successive cohorts. I develop an occupational choice model with male and female individuals who are heterogeneous with respect to their level of skill. An individual's skill at a point in time depends on his/her exogenous initial level of skill and his/her work experience. Individuals decide how much time to spend in the labor market. Occupations differ by two features in my model: 1) the skill required to perform, and 2) the marginal product of skill. If occupations involve simple tasks, output and wages vary little across workers of different initial skill levels. Also, acquired work experience influences wages only slightly, since little can be learned by performing simple tasks. I discipline the model with data on occupational complexity, occupational choice, labor supply and male wages. The model reproduces the gender wage gap across occupations for cohorts born between 1915 and 1955. The little work experience of females relative to that of males is a key factor behind the U-shape. It decreases female wages disproportionately across occupations and it influences female occupational selection. I find that 69% of the lifecycle gender wage gap is attributable to work experience. Removing differences in work experience between genders results in a larger fraction of females choosing occupations for which the gender wage differential is smaller.

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    File URL: https://www.economicdynamics.org/meetpapers/2013/paper_348.pdf
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    Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2013 Meeting Papers with number 348.

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    Date of creation: 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:red:sed013:348
    Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Christian Zimmermann Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis PO Box 442 St. Louis MO 63166-0442 USA
    Fax: 1-314-444-8731
    Web page: http://www.EconomicDynamics.org/society.htm
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    1. Bowlus, Audra J. & Robinson, Chris, 2011. "Human Capital Prices, Productivity and Growth," CLSSRN working papers clsrn_admin-2011-32, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 22 Dec 2011.
    2. Michelle Rendall, 2010. "Brain versus brawn: the realization of women's comparative advantage," IEW - Working Papers 491, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    3. Todd Schoellman, 2010. "The Occupations and Human Capital of U.S. Immigrants," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(1), pages 1-34.
    4. Hendricks, Lutz & Schoellman, Todd, 2009. "Student Abilities During the Expansion of U.S. Education, 1950-2000," MPRA Paper 12798, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
    6. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2008. "Rising Occupational And Industry Mobility In The United States: 1968-97," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 49(1), pages 41-79, 02.
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