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Research Paper IZA Discussion Papers 9193

The anatomy of job polarisation in the UK


Publication date

Jul 2015


This paper presents new evidence on the evolution of job polarisation
over time and across skill groups in the UK between 1979 and 2012. The
UK has experienced job polarisation in each of the last three decades,
with growth in top jobs always exceeding that in bottom ones. Overall,
top occupations have gained over 80% of the employment shares lost by
middling occupations. The decline of middling occupations is entirely
accounted for by non-graduates who have seen their relative numbers
decrease and the distribution of their employment shift towards the
bottom of the occupational skill distribution. The increase at the top
is entirely accounted for by compositional changes, as a result of the
increase in the number of graduates since the 1990s. Employment has not
polarised for graduates, but has become less concentrated in top
occupations, especially in the 2000s.
The paper also documents that job polarisation has not been matched by
wage polarisation across the occupational distribution in any decade and discusses how these new findings relate to the existing evidence for
the US and to the prevailing technology-based explanation for job
polarisation. Overall, the importance of occupational changes between
skill groups and the performance of occupational wages over time cast
doubts on the role of technology as the main driver of polarisation in
the UK. In particular, the evidence suggests that supply-side changes
are likely to be important factors in explaining why high-skill
occupations continued to grow in the 2000s even as they stalled in the


Labour Economics, Wages And Earnings, and Higher Education



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