Journal Article

Upgrading or polarization? Occupational change in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, 1990–2008

Daniel Oesch and Jorge Rodríguez Menés

in Socio-Economic Review

Published on behalf of Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics

Volume 9, issue 3, pages 503-531
Published in print July 2011 | ISSN: 1475-1461
Published online December 2010 | e-ISSN: 1475-147X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ser/mwq029
Upgrading or polarization? Occupational change in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, 1990–2008

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We analyse occupational change over the last two decades in Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland: which jobs have been expanding—high-paid jobs, low-paid jobs or both? Based on individual-level data, four hypotheses are examined: skill-biased technical change, routinization, skill supply evolution and wage-setting institutions. We find massive occupational upgrading which matches educational expansion: employment expanded most at the top of the occupational hierarchy, among managers and professionals. In parallel, intermediary occupations (clerks and production workers) declined relative to those at the bottom (interpersonal service workers). This U-shaped pattern of upgrading is consistent with the routinization hypothesis: technology seems a better substitute for average-paid clerical and manufacturing jobs than for low-end interpersonal service jobs. Yet country differences in low-paid services suggest that wage-setting institutions channel technological change into more or less polarized patterns of upgrading. Moreover, immigration surges in Britain and Spain seem decisive in having provided the low-skilled labour supply necessary to fill low-paid jobs.

Keywords: labour markets; technological change; inequality; occupations; employment; skills; J21 labour force and employment, size, and structure; P52 comparative studies of particular economies

Journal Article.  10406 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy ; Corporate Social Responsibility ; Welfare Economics ; Political Economy ; Economic Sociology

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