Foreign Investment, Outsourcing and Relative Wages

Robert C. Feenstra, Gordon H. Hanson

NBER Working Paper No. 5121
Issued in May 1995
NBER Program(s):   ITI

In this paper we examine the reduction in the relative employment and wages of unskilled workers in the U.S. during the 1980's. We argue that a contributing factor to this decline was rising imports reflecting the outsourcing of production activities. In a theoretical model, we show that any increase in the Southern capital stock relative to that of the North, or neutral technological progress in the South, will increase the relative wage of skilled workers in both countries due to a shift in production activities to the South. Corresponding to this change in the relative wage is an increase in the price index of Northern activities within each industry, relative to that of the South. We confirm that this change in relative prices occurred for the U.S. and other industrialized countries relative to their trading partners. We also estimate that 15-33% of the increase in the relative wage of nonproduction (or skilled) workers in the U.S. during the 1980's is explained by rising imports.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5121


  • Political Economy of Trade Policy: Essays in Honor of Jagdish Bhagwati, MIT Press. 1996, pp.89-128.
  • Feenstra, Robert C. and Gordon H. Hanson. "Foreign Direct Investment And Relative Wages: Evidence From Mexico's Maquiladoras," Journal of International Economics, 1997, v42(3/4), 371-393.

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