The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity
Current concern with relationships among particular technologies, capital, and the wage structure motivates this study of the origins of technology-skill complementarity in manufacturing. We offer evidence of the existence of technology-skill and capital-skill (relative) complementarities from 1909 to 1929, and suggest that they were associated with continuous-process and batch methods and the adoption of electric motors. Industries that used more capital per worker and a greater proportion of their horsepower in the form of purchased electricity employed relatively more educated blue-collar workers in 1940 and paid their blue-collar workers substantially more from 1909 to 1929. We also infer capital-skill complementarity using the wage-bill for non-production workers and find that the relationship was as large from 1909-19 as it has been recently. Finally, we link our findings to those on the high-school movement (1910 to 1940). The rapid increase in the supply of skills from 1910 to 1940 may have prevented rising inequality with technological change.
Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 113 (June 1998): 683-732.