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Do Older Workers Have More Trouble Using a Computer Than Younger Workers?

  • Borghans,Lex
  • Weel,Bas,ter

    (ROA rm)

Technological change is often perceived to harm the position of the incumbent workforce compared to new entrants. Particularly the labor-market position of older workers, who are thought to have lower abilities or incentives to acquire new skills, might be deteriorated by the arrival of new technologies. Computers are a major example of such a new technology. A lack of skills might hamper computerization of the jobs of older workers and decrease the value of their existing skills. Several authors have shown however that the age pattern of computer use does not seem to fit in this view and argued that the relationship between age, computer use and skills is more complex. This paper examines the computer use of older workers from the perspective that the availability of skills is not the only factor relevant for the decision to invest in computers. Using British data, estimates are presented showing that computer use does not depend on age when taking into account wage costs and the tasks to be performed at work. It does turn out that older workers embody less computer skills than younger workers, but the main distinction lies between the 20-29 year old workers and the others. Investigating the value of computer skills reveals that these skills do not seem to yield labor-market returns and the relative lack of computer skills is unlikely to negatively affect the wages of older workers. Hence, the analysis does not find support for the concern about older workers not being able to cope with computers.

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Paper provided by Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) in its series ROA Research Memorandum with number 003.

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Date of creation: 2002
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Handle: RePEc:unm:umaror:2002003
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  1. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1996. "With What Skills Are Computers a Complement?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 258-62, May.
  2. Aghion, Philippe, 2002. "Schumpeterian Growth Theory and the Dynamics of Income Inequality," Scholarly Articles 3350067, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  8. Borghans,Lex & Weel,Bas,ter, 2001. "What happens when agent T gets a computer?," Research Memorandum 017, Maastricht University, Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
  9. Entorf, Horst & Kramarz, Francis, 1997. "Does unmeasured ability explain the higher wages of new technology workers?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(8), pages 1489-1509, August.
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  17. Juhn, Chinhui, 1992. "Decline of Male Labor Market Participation: The Role of Declining Market Opportunities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 79-121, February.
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  20. Peracchi, Franco & Welch, Finis, 1994. "Trends in Labor Force Transitions of Older Men and Women," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(2), pages 210-42, April.
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