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Second Quarter 2019, 
Vol. 101, No. 2
Posted 2019-04-15

Racial Gaps, Occupational Matching, and Skill Uncertainty

by Limor Golan and Carl Sanders

White workers in the United States earn almost 30 percent more per hour on average than Black workers, and this wage gap is associated with large racial differences in occupational assignments. In this article, we theoretically and empirically examine the Black-White disparity in occupations. First, we present a model based on Antonovics and Golan (2012) that relates occupational assignments to the incentives workers face while learning about their own unknown ability. Second, we document differences between Black and White workers in both the complexity of skills required in their initial occupations and the growth rates of this complexity over time. To do this, we match panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles measures of occupational characteristics and find that, compared with White workers, Black workers start in occupations requiring less-complex skills, see slower growth in job complexity over time, and are relatively more likely to transition to jobs with lower complexity. Finally, we consider the relationship between our model and our empirical findings; for example, discrimination in hiring early in the career can have long-term consequences on the ability of Black workers to learn their best occupational match and explains part of their lower wage growth. We conclude with suggestions for policy and future research directions.

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