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The Collapse of Low-Skill Male Earnings in the 1980s: Skill Mismatch or Shifting Wage Norms?

David Howell ()

Macroeconomics from University Library of Munich, Germany

Abstract: The most-often stated reason the decline in average real weekly wages among production workers has been that technological advancements have resulted in increased demand for skilled workers, leaving less-skilled workers with fewer job opportunities. In this paper, David R. Howell examines this possibility and concludes that while supply-side changes explain the gains experienced among educated workers, the hypothesis does not prove adequate in explaining the decline in wages experienced among less-educated workers. He also finds that while the demand for jobs requiring problem solving skills rose during the 1980s, the increase was not radically different from changes in the demand for these workers in past decades. Instead, the shift appears to have been not so much a decline in demand for low-skill workers as a rise in the share of low-wage jobs across the skills spectrum. In addition, Howell explains wage restructuring as linked to labor relations factors (such as changes in the terms of trade and declining union strength) rather than a function of production technology. This "shift in wage norms" hypothesis has two main parts: (1) lower wage offers to the same or similar workers for the same or similar work and (2) displacement of higher wage workers.

JEL-codes: E (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 52 pages
Date: 1999-06-24
Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 52; figures: included
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Working Paper: The Collapse of Low-skill Male Earnings in the 1980s: Skill Mismatch or Shifting Wage Norms? (1994) Downloads
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