De Economist

, Volume 159, Issue 4, pp 435–482 | Cite as

Measuring and Interpreting Trends in the Division of Labour in the Netherlands

  • İ. Semih Akçomak
  • Lex Borghans
  • Bas ter WeelEmail author
Open Access


This paper introduces indicators about the division of labour to measure and interpret recent trends in the structure of employment in the Netherlands. 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 organisation of work is determined by an equilibrium of forces that glue tasks together or unbundle them. Communication costs are the main force for clustering or gluing together tasks; comparative advantage stimulates unbundling and specialisation. The estimates suggest that on average the Netherlands has witnessed unbundling in the period 1996–2005, which implies that advantages of specialisation have increased. These developments explain to a considerable extent changes in the structure of employment. Especially at the spatial level it explains a substantial part of the increase in offshoring tasks abroad.


Trade in tasks Division of labour Offshoring 


Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


  1. Acemoglu, D., & Autor, D. H. (2011). Skills, tasks and technologies: Implications for employment and earnings. In: O. Ashenfelter, & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 4b, pp. 1043–1171)Google Scholar
  2. Antràs P., Garicano L., Rossi-Hansberg E. (2006) Offshoring in a knowledge economy. Quarterly Journal of Economics 121(1): 31–77Google Scholar
  3. Autor D. H., Levy F., Murnane R. J. (2003) The skill content of recent technological change: An empirical exploration. Quarterly Journal of Economics 118(4): 1279–1333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Autor D. H., Katz L. F., Kearney M. S. (2006) The polarization of the U.S. labor market. American Economic Review 96(2): 189–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baldwin, R. (2010). Integration of the North American economy and new-paradigm globalisation. CEPR Discussion Paper No.7523.Google Scholar
  6. Baldwin, R., & Robert-Nicoud, F. (2010). Trade in goods and trade in tasks: An integrating framework. NBER Working Paper No. 15882.Google Scholar
  7. Baumgardner J. R. (1988) The division of labor, local markets, and worker organization. Journal of Political Economy 96(3): 509–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker G. S., Murphy K. M. (1992) The division of labor, coordination costs, and knowledge. Quarterly Journal of Economics 107(4): 1137–1160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blinder A. S. (2006) Offshoring: The next industrial revolution. Foreign Affairs 85(2): 113–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom, N., Garicano, L., Sadun, R., & Van Reenen, J. (2009). The distinct effects of information technology and communication technology on firm organization. NBER Working Paper No. 14975.Google Scholar
  11. Bolton P., Dewatripoint M. (1994) The firm as a communication network. Quarterly Journal of Economics 109(3): 809–839CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Borghans L., Ter Weel B. (2004) What happens when agent T gets a computer? The labor market impact of cost efficient computer adoption. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 54(2): 137–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Borghans L., Ter Weel B. (2006) The division of labour, worker organisation and technological change. Economic Journal 116(509): F45–F72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Borghans, L., Weel, B., & Weinberg, B. A. (2006). People people: Social capital and the labor-market outcomes of underrepresented groups. NBER Working Paper No. 11985.Google Scholar
  15. Borghans L., Ter Weel B., Weinberg B. A. (2008) Interpersonal styles and labor market outcomes. Journal of Human Resources 43(4): 815–858Google Scholar
  16. Brakman S., Garretsen H., Ter Marrewijk C. (2009) The New Introduction to Geographical Economics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Bresnahan T. F. (1999) Computerisation and wage dispersion: An analytical reinterpretation. Economic Journal 109(456): F390–F415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bresnahan T. F., Brynjolfsson E., Hitt L. (2002) Information technology, workplace organization and the demand for skilled labor: Firm-level evidence. Quarterly Journal of Economics 117(1): 339–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Bresnahan, T. F., & Greenstein, S.(1996). Technical progress and co-invention in computing and in the uses of computers, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Microeconomics (pp. 1–77).Google Scholar
  20. Caroli E., Van Reenen J. (2001) Skill biased organizational change? Evidence from British and French establishments. Quarterly Journal of Economics 116(4): 1448–1492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. CPB: (2008) Centraal Economisch Plan. Centraal Planbureau, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  22. Crino R. (2010) Service offshoring and white-collar employment. Review of Economic Studies 77(2): 595–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Criscuolo C., Garicano L. (2010) Offshoring and wage inequality: Using occupational licensing as a shifter of offshoring costs. American Economic Review 100(2): 439–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ellison G., Glaeser E. L. (1997) Geographic concentration in US manufacturing industry: a dartboard approach. Journal of Political Economy 105(5): 889–927CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ellison G., Glaeser E. L., Kerr W. R. (2010) What causes industry agglomeration? Evidence from coagglomeration patterns. American Economic Review 100(3): 1195–1213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Feenstra R. C., Hanson G. (1996) Globalization, outsourcing and wage inequality. American Economic Review 86(2): 240–245Google Scholar
  27. Feenstra R.C., Hanson G. (1999) The impact of outsourcing and high-technology capital on wages: Estimates for the U.S., 1972–1990. Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(3): 907–940CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Firpo S., Fortin N., Lemieux T. (2009) Occupational tasks and changes in the wage structure. University of British Columbia, Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  29. Garicano L., Rossi-Hansberg E. (2006) Organization and inequality in a knowledge economy. Quarterly Journal of Economics 121(4): 1383–1435Google Scholar
  30. Gaspar J., Glaeser E. (1998) Information technology and the future of cities. Journal of Urban Economics 43(1): 136–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Goos M., Manning A. (2007) Lousy and lovely jobs: The rising polarization of work in Britain. Review of Economics and Statistics 89(1): 118–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goos M., Manning A., Salomons A. (2009) Job polarization in Europe. American Economic Review 99(2): 58–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gorter, J., Tang, P., & Toet, M. (2005). Verplaatsing vanuit Nederland, CPB Document No. 76.Google Scholar
  34. Green, F., Felstead, A., Gallie, D., & Zhou, Y. (2007). Skills at Work, 1986–2006, SKOPE, University of Oxford,
  35. Green, F. (2009). Employee involvement, technology and job tasks, University of Kent, Department of Economics, Discussion Papers in Economics No. 09/03.Google Scholar
  36. Grossman G. M., Rossi-Hansberg E. (2008) Trading tasks: A simple theory of offshoring. American Economic Review 98(5): 1978–1997CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jensen, B., & Kletzer, L. G. (2005). Tradable services: Understanding the scope and impact of services offshoring, Institute for International Economics Working Paper No. 05–9.Google Scholar
  38. Osterman P. (1994) How common in workplace transformation and who adopts it?. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 47(1): 173–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Radner R. (1993) The organization of decentralized information processing. Econometrica 61(5): 1109–1146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Spieza, V.(2003). Geographic concentration and territorial disparity in OECD countries, accessed on 02/03/2010.
  41. Spitz-Oener A. (2006) Technical change, job tasks and rising educational demands: Looking outside the wage structure. Journal of Labor Economics 24(2): 235–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ter Weel B., van der Horst A., Gelauff G. (2010) The Netherlands of 2040. Centraal Planbureau, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  43. Ter Weel B. (2003) The structure of wages in the Netherlands, 1986–1998. Labour 17(3): 361–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ter Weel B. (2006) IT diffusion and industry and labour-market dynamics. Economic Journal 116(509): F1–F9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Varian H. R. (2010) Computer mediated transactions. American Economic Review 100(2): 1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Venables A. J. (2001) Geography and international inequalities: The impact of new technologies. Journal of Industry Competition and Trade 1(2): 135–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • İ. Semih Akçomak
    • 1
  • Lex Borghans
    • 2
  • Bas ter Weel
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Middle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey
  2. 2.Maastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy AnalysisThe HagueThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations