Understanding the Evolution of the U.S. Wage Distribution: A Theoretical Analysis

45 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2007 Last revised: 26 Jul 2007

See all articles by Fatih Guvenen

Fatih Guvenen

University of Minnesota - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Burhanettin Kuruscu

University of Toronto - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 2007

Abstract

In this paper we present an analytically tractable overlapping generations model of human capital accumulation, and study its implications for the evolution of the U.S. wage distribution from 1970 to 2000. The key feature of the model, and the only source of heterogeneity, is that individuals differ in their ability to accumulate human capital. Therefore, wage inequality results only from differences in human capital accumulation. We examine the response of this model to skill-biased technical change (SBTC) theoretically. We show that in response to SBTC, the model generates behavior consistent with several features of the U.S. data including (i) a rise in overall wage inequality both in the short run and long run, (ii) an initial fall in the education premium followed by a strong recovery, leading to a higher premium in the long run, (iii) the fact that most of this fall and rise takes place among younger workers, (iv) a rise in within-group inequality, (v) stagnation in median wage growth (and a slowdown in aggregate labor productivity), and (vi) a rise in consumption inequality that is much smaller than the rise in wage inequality. These results suggest that the heterogeneity in the ability to accumulate human capital is an important feature for understanding the effects of SBTC, and interpreting the transformation that the U.S. economy has gone through since the 1970's.

Suggested Citation

Guvenen, Fatih and Kuruscu, Burhanettin, Understanding the Evolution of the U.S. Wage Distribution: A Theoretical Analysis (May 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13096. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=986946

Fatih Guvenen (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Department of Economics ( email )

Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Burhanettin Kuruscu

University of Toronto - Department of Economics ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/bkuruscu

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