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 Skill Prices, Occupations, and Changes in the Wage Structure for Low Skilled Men

Christopher R. Taber, Nicolas A. Roys

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Abstract:

This paper studies the effect of the change in occupational structure on wages for low skilled men. We develop a model of occupational choice in which workers have multi-dimensional skills that are exploited differently across different occupations. We allow for a rich specification of technological change which has heterogenous effects on different occupations and different parts of the skill distribution. We estimate the model combining four datasets: (1) O*NET, to measure skill intensity across occupations, (2) NLSY79, to identify life-cycle supply effects, (3) CPS (ORG), to estimate the evolution of skill prices and occupations over time, and (4) NLSY97 to see how the gain to specific skills has changed. We find that while changes in the occupational structure have affected wages of low skilled workers, the effect is not dramatic. First, the wages in traditional blue collar occupations have not fallen substantially relative to other occupations-a fact that we can not reconcile with a competitive model. Second, our decompositions show that changes in occupations explain only a small part of the patterns in wage levels over our time period. Price changes within occupation are far more important. Third, while we see an increase in the payoff to interpersonal skills, manual skills still remain the most important skill type for low educated males.