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Explaining Women's Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women's Work

  • Black, Sandra E.
  • Spitz-Oener, Alexandra

The closing of the gender wage gap is an ongoing phenomenon in industrialized countries. However, research has been limited in its ability to understand the causes of these changes, due in part to an inability to directly compare the work of women to that of men. In this study, we use a new approach for analyzing changes in the gender pay gap that uses direct measures of job tasks and gives a comprehensive characterization of how work for men and women has changed in recent decades. Using data from West Germany, we find that women have witnessed relative increases in nonroutine analytic tasks and non-routine interactive tasks, which are associated with higher skill levels. The most notable difference between the genders is, however, the pronounced relative decline in routine task inputs among women with little change for men. These relative task changes explain a substantial fraction of the closing of the gender wage gap. Our evidence suggests that these task changes are driven, at least in part, by technological change. We also show that these task changes are related to the recent polarization of employment between low and high skilled occupations that we observed in the 1990s.

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Paper provided by ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research in its series ZEW Discussion Papers with number 07-033.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:zewdip:5692
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  1. Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2006. "Technical Change, Job Tasks, and Rising Educational Demands: Looking outside the Wage Structure," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 235-270, April.
  2. Marigee Bacolod & Bernardo S. Blum, 2005. "Two Sides of the Same Coin: U.S. "Residual" Inequality and the Gender Gap," Working Papers 050617, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
  3. David Autor & Frank Levy & Richard Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  4. Fitzenberger, Bernd & Wunderlich, Gaby, 2000. "Gender wage differences in West Germany: a cohort analysis," ZEW Discussion Papers 00-48, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  5. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2006. "The Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 11986, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Lucy Chennells & John Van Reenen, 1999. "Has technology hurt less skilled workers? A survey of the micro-econometric evidence," IFS Working Papers W99/27, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  7. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
  8. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  9. Olivetti, Claudia & Petrongolo, Barbara, 2006. "Unequal Pay or Unequal Employment? A Cross-Country Analysis of Gender Gaps," CEPR Discussion Papers 5506, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Chinhui Juhn & Sandra E. Black, 2000. "The Rise of Female Professionals: Are Women Responding to Skill Demand?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 450-455, May.
  11. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
  12. Bruce Weinberg, 1998. "Computer Use and the Demand for Women Workers," Working Papers 98-06, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  13. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2001. "Understanding International Differences in the Gender Pay Gap," NBER Working Papers 8200, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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. Finis Welch, 2000. "Growth in Women's Relative Wages and in Inequality among Men: One Phenomenon or Two?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 444-449, May.
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