Task Mismatch and Salary Penalties: Evidence from the Biomedical PhD Labor Market
We use the labor market for doctorates in the biomedical sciences, where career dislocation is common, as a case study of skill-task mismatch and its consequences. Using longitudinal, worker-level data on biomedical doctorates, we investigate mismatch as an explanation for the negative pecuniary returns to postdoc training. Our data contain unique worker-level job task information that allows us to compare the skills acquired in the years just after graduation to the tasks required in later employment. Our findings reveal a postdoc salary penalty when task mismatch is high, which is frequent, and a salary premium when skills align with tasks. Differences in accumulated task-specific human capital explain the between-sector heterogeneity in the returns to postdoctoral training, including the large and persistent salary penalties from postdoctoral training in industry, and the penalty overall. Task mismatch as a cost of pursuing risky careers in science and in other fields requiring large upfront investments in task-specific human capital has received little attention in the empirical labor literature.