Inequality, Leading-Edge Workers and Industrial Revolutions

Authors: Dylan Connor*, Arizona State University, Thomas Kemeny, Queen Mary, University of London, Michael Storper, UCLA / London School of Economics
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: Economic geography, Inequality, History
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Around 1980, a long period of interpersonal and interregional wage compression in the U.S. came to an end. This paper argues that, to understand these patterns, we need to understand the behavior of workers that drive sweeping changes in productive technology, or more properly industrial revolutions. Leveraging US data spanning 140 years and two industrial revolutions, we document how the spatial behaviors and upward mobility of these leading-edge workers relate to interpersonal and interregional inequality. We develop theory in support of these ideas which, like the skill-biased technological change (SBTC) models of urban and labor economics, view major technological change as complementary to certain workers while substituting for others, with concordant inequality effects. Thus, by tracing inequality and drawing parallels and contrasts across two industrial revolutions, this paper provides an integrated explanation of inequality at both interpersonal and interregional scales over the very long run.

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