November 26, 2010

Measuring and interpreting trends in the division of labour in the Netherlands

Globalisering vereist nieuwe benadering arbeidsmarktbeleid

Press release
De effecten van globalisering treffen vooral bepaalde taken in het werkproces, niet hele sectoren of beroepsgroepen. Dat geldt op alle niveaus, inclusief het werk van hoogopgeleiden.

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Bas ter Weel
Dick Morks

This paper introduces indicators about the division of labour to measure and interpret recent trends in employment in the Netherlands. 

We show that changes in the division of labour occur at three different levels: the level of the individual worker, the level of the industry and the spatial level. At each level, the current organisation of work is determined by an equilibrium of forces that glue tasks together and unbundled tasks. Communication costs are the main force for clustering or gluing together tasks; comparative advantage stimulates unbundling and specialisation.

Our results show that on average the Netherlands has witnessed unbundling in the period 1996-2005. So, on average the advantages of specialisation have increased. These developments can explain to a considerable extent changes in the structure of employment. Especially at the spatial level, our approach explains a substantial part of the increase in offshoring during this period.


Bas ter Weel
Semih Akcomak
Lex Borghans