David H. Autor
NBER Working Paper No. 18711
An emerging literature argues that changes in the allocation of workplace “tasks” between capital and labor, and between domestic and foreign workers, has altered the structure of labor demand in industrialized countries and fostered employment polarization—that is, rising employment in the highest and lowest paid occupations. Analyzing this phenomenon within the canonical production function framework is challenging, however, because the assignment of tasks to labor and capital in the canonical model is essentially static. This essay sketches an alternative model of the assignment of skills to tasks based upon comparative advantage, reviews key conceptual and practical challenges that researchers face in bringing the “task approach” to the data, and cautions against two common pitfalls that pervade the growing task literature. I conclude with a cautiously optimistic forecast for the potential of the task approach to illuminate the interactions among skill supplies, technological capabilities, and trade and offshoring opportunities, in shaping the aggregate demand for skills, the assignment of skills to tasks, and the evolution of wages.
Shocking Labor Supply: A Reassessment of the Role of World War II on U.S. Women's Labor Supply
Claudia Goldin, Claudia Olivetti
NBER Working Paper No. 18676
The most prominent feature of the female labor force across the past hundred years is its enormous growth. But many believe that the increase was discontinuous. Our purpose is to identify the short- and long-run impacts of WWII on the labor supply of women who were currently married in 1950 and 1960. We use mobilization rates for various groups of men (by age, race, fatherhood) to see whether there was a wartime impact. We find that an aggregate mobilization rate produces the largest and most robust impacts on both weeks worked and the labor force participation of married white (non-farm) women. The impact, moreover, was experienced primarily by women in the top half of the education distribution. Women who were married but without children during WWII were the group most impacted by the mobilization rate in 1950, although by 1960 WWII still influenced the labor supply decisions of them as well as those with children during WWII. We end the paper with a resolution between the watershed and revisionist views of the role of WWII on female labor supply.