Firms and Labor Market Inequality: Evidence and Some Theory

David Card, Ana Rute Cardoso, Jörg Heining, Patrick Kline

NBER Working Paper No. 22850
Issued in November 2016
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Labor Studies, Public Economics, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

We survey two growing bodies of research on firm-level drivers of labor market inequality. The first examines how wages are affected by differences in employer productivity. Studies that focus on firm-specific productivity shocks and control for the non-random sorting of workers to firms typically find that a 10% increase in value-added per worker leads to somewhere between a 0.5% and 1.5% increase in wages. Given the wide variation in firm-specific productivity, elasticities of this size suggest that a significant fraction of wage inequality is tied to firm performance. A second literature estimates two-way fixed effects models that rely on the wage changes of people who move between firms to identify firm-specific wage premiums. This literature also concludes that firm pay setting is important for wage inequality, with many studies finding that firm wage effects contribute approximately 20% of the overall variance of wages. To interpret these findings, we develop a model of firm wage setting in which workers have idiosyncratic tastes for different workplaces. We show that simple versions of this model can rationalize the standard two-way fixed effects specification proposed by Abowd, Kramarz and Margolis (1999), and can also match the typical “rent-sharing” elasticities estimated in the literature. Extended versions of the model can potentially explain differences in the wage premiums paid by a given employer to different subgroups of workers.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22850


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