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Does Inequality in Skills Explain Inequality in Earnings Across Advanced Countries?

by Dan Devroye and Richard Freeman. Reading for 23 January 2007.

The distribution of earnings and the distribution of skills vary widely among advanced countries, with the major English-speaking countries, the US, UK, and Canada, having much greater inequality in both earnings and skills than continental European Union countries. This raises the possibility that cross-country differences in the distribution of skills determine cross-country differences in earnings inequality. Using the International Adult Literacy Survey, we find that skill inequality explains only about 7% of the cross-country difference in inequality. Most striking, the dispersion of earnings in the US is larger in narrowly defined skill groups than is the dispersion of earnings for European workers overall. The bulk of cross-country differences in earnings inequality occur within skill groups, not between them.

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