January 1, 1996

Structural changes in the demand for labor

This paper investigates why labor demand has shifted away from low-skilled toward high-skilled labor in The Netherlands.

We focus on the role of changes in relative wages and technological progress. A flexible functional form, proposed by Diewert and Wales, the Symmetric Generalized McFadden cost function, is estimated for the exposed and sheltered sectors. The estimates are based on time-series data for the period 1972-1993, which recently became available. Labor-saving technological change explains most of the displacement of low-skilled workers. The computed elasticities suggest that substitution between labor as a whole and capital is small. However, substitution plays a modest role in the shift from low-skilled toward high-skilled labor, especially in the sheltered sector. Skill-capital complementarity seems relevant in both sectors.

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