Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Ravikumar, B

Second Advisor

Vandenbroucke, G

First Committee Member

Ravikumar, B

Second Committee Member

Vandenbroucke, Guillaume

Third Committee Member

Ventura, Gustavo J

Fourth Committee Member

Govindan, Srihari

Fifth Committee Member

Zhang, Yuzhe


This thesis consists of two chapters. The first chapter investigates the causes of the recent slowdown in college attainment in the United States. The second chapter studies the gender wage gap by occupational complexity.

For white males born in the United States after 1950, there is a stagnation in the fraction of high school graduates that go on to complete a four-year college degree. At the same time, across successive cohorts, those with a four year-college degree achieve increasingly higher lifetime earnings than those with a high school degree. What caused this phenomenon? I formulate a life-cycle model of human capital accumulation in college and on the job, where successive cohorts decide whether or not to acquire a college degree as well as the quality of their college education. Cohorts differ by the sequence of rental price per unit of human capital they face. My model reproduces the observed pattern in college attainment for the 1920 to 1970 birth cohorts. The stagnation in college attainment is due to the decrease in the growth rate of the rental price per unit of human capital commencing in the 1970s. My model also generates 79% of the increase in earnings for college graduates relative to those for high school graduates. Part of this increase is reinforced by a stronger association between college and ability.

Female to male wages are U-shaped across occupations ordered by increasing complexity, where complexity is defined as the ratio of abstract to manual tasks content. The U-shape flattens over the lifecycle and across successive cohorts. I develop an occupational choice model with learning by doing on the job. Male and female individuals differ by their level of skill. Occupations differ by the skill required to perform and the marginal product of skill. The model reproduces the gender wage gap across occupations for cohorts born between 1915 and 1955 in the United States. The small work experience of females relative to that of males decreases female wages disproportionately across occupations and influences female occupational selection. I find that 69% of the lifecycle gender wage gap is attributable to work experience. Removing differences in work experience between genders results in a larger fraction of females choosing occupations for which the gender wage differential is smaller.


xi, 109 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 106-109).


Copyright 2013 Elisa Keller

Included in

Economics Commons