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Essays on the task content of occupations and occupational mobility Cortés, Guido Matías

Abstract

This dissertation studies the effects of technological change on workers' occupational choices and wages, as well as the human capital costs associated with occupational transitions. The first part of the dissertation focuses on the interaction between technological change and tasks. Over the past three decades technological improvements have led to a dramatic reduction in the employment share of occupations with a high content of routine tasks in the United States and other developed countries. This dissertation provides a novel perspective on this phenomenon by focusing on the individual-level effects of this type of technological change in terms of occupational switching patterns and wage changes. I formalize the predicted effects within the context of a model of occupational sorting based on comparative advantage, and I test them using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) from 1976 to 2007. Consistent with the predictions of the model, I find strong evidence of selection on ability in the occupational mobility patterns of workers in routine occupations, with those of relatively high (low) ability switching to non-routine cognitive (non-routine manual) occupations. In terms of wage growth, also consistent with the prediction of the model, workers in routine jobs experience significant declines in their wage premia relative to workers in any other type of occupation. Switchers from routine to either type of non-routine job (cognitive or manual) experience significantly higher wage growth than stayers over long-run horizons. The second portion of the dissertation analyzes the role of the task content of occupations. I develop a measure of task distance between occupation pairs and study its impacts from two different perspectives: At a microeconomic level, I analyze the wage changes for workers experiencing occupational transitions of different distances. At a macroeconomic level, I analyze the impacts of task distance on the aggregate flows of workers across occupations. The aggregate-level evidence suggests that the cost of switching occupations is increasing in distance, but only for switches occurring across broad occupation groups. The individual-level evidence suggests that there is a negative correlation between wage changes and distance, but only for certain subsets of workers.

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