NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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International Trade and Job Polarization: Evidence at the Worker-Level

Wolfgang Keller, Hâle Utar

NBER Working Paper No. 22315
Issued in June 2016, Revised in June 2016
NBER Program(s):International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

This paper examines the role of international trade for job polarization, the phenomenon in which employment for high- and low-wage occupations increases but mid-wage occupations decline. With employer-employee matched data on virtually all workers and firms in Denmark between 1999 and 2009, we use instrumental-variables techniques and a quasi-natural experiment to show that import competition is a major cause of job polarization. Import competition with China accounts for about 17% of the aggregate decline in mid-wage employment. Many mid-skill workers are pushed into low-wage service jobs while others move into high-wage jobs. The direction of movement, up or down, turns on the skill focus of workers’ education. Workers with vocational training for a service occupation can avoid moving into low-wage service jobs, and among them workers with information-technology education are far more likely to move into high-wage jobs than other workers.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22315

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