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Brain versus brawn: the realization of women's comparative advantage

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  • Michelle Petersen Rendall

Abstract

In the last decades the US economy experienced a rise in female labor force participation, a reversal of the gender education gap and a closing of the gender wage gap. Importantly, these changes occurred at a substantially different pace over time. During the same period, workers in the US faced a considerable shift in labor demand from more physical to more intellectual skill requirements. I rationalize these observations in the context of a general equilibrium model displaying two key assumptions: (1) the demand for brain increases both within and across education groups; and (2) women have less brawn than men. Given the observed US technical change process, the model replicates (1) over half of the narrowing gender wage gap, (2) most of the narrowing employment gap, and (3) all of the reversing education gap. Crucially, the model can also account for the time-varying-path of the narrowing gender divide with an initial stagnation and a later acceleration in female wages and education rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Michelle Petersen 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, revised Jun 2017.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:491
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    File URL: http://www.econ.uzh.ch/static/wp_iew/iewwp491.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Larry E. JONES & Rodolfo E. MANUELLI & Ellen R. McGRATTAN, 2015. "Why Are Married Women Working so much ?," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 81(1), pages 75-114, March.
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    3. Claudia Olivetti, 2006. "Changes in Women's Hours of Market Work: The Role of Returns to Experience," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(4), pages 557-587, October.
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    5. 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.
    6. Francine D. Blau, 1998. "Trends in the Well-Being of American Women, 1970-1995," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 112-165, March.
    7. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & JosÈ-Victor RÌos-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 2000. "Capital-Skill Complementarity and Inequality: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(5), pages 1029-1054, September.
    8. L Yuetyee Wong, 2006. "Women's Economic Progress and Inequality," 2006 Meeting Papers 477, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Technological progress; labor demand; skills; female labor supply; gender education gap; gender wage gap; college attainment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E23 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Production
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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