Wage Inequality and Industrial Change: Evidence from Five Decades
NBER Working Paper No. 4684
Using data from the 1940-1980 Decennial Census and the 1988-1992 March Current Population Surveys, this paper examines the impact of industrial change on male wage inequality over a period of five decades (1940-1990). Alternative measures of skill such as the wage percentile, education and occupation indicate that wage inequality between more and less skilled male workers fell substantially during the 1940s and increased most dramatically during the 1980s. Examination of industrial change over this longer time period shows that the demand for the most highly educated and skilled male workers relative to the least skilled male workers increased no faster during the 1970s and the 1980s than during the earlier decades. In contrast, the demand for men in the middle skill categories (such as those in basic manufacturing) expanded during the 1940s and the 1950s and contracted severely during the 1970s and 1980s. This suggests that the growth of jobs in the middle skill categories may be closely related to overall wage inequality. Cross sectional regressions based on state level data also show some empirical support for the hypothesis that a decline in demand for medium skilled groups increases overall wage inequality.
Published: Industrial Labor Relations Review, Vol. 52 (April 1999).