Review of World Economics

, Volume 148, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

Trading away what kind of jobs? Globalization, trade and tasks in the US economy

  • Thomas KemenyEmail author
  • David Rigby
Original Paper


Economists and other social scientists are calling for a reassessment of the impact of international trade on labor markets in developed and developing countries. Classical models of globalization and trade, based upon the international exchange of finished goods, fail to capture the fragmentation of much commodity production and the geographical separation of individual production tasks. This fragmentation, captured in the growing volume of intra-industry trade, prompts investigation of the effects of trade within, rather than between, sectors of the economy. In this paper we examine the relationship between international trade and the task structure of US employment. We link disaggregate US trade data from 1972 to 2006, the NBER manufacturing database, the Decennial Census, and occupational and task data from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Within-industry shifts in task characteristics are linked to import competition and technological change. Our results suggest that trade has played a major role in the growth in relative demand for nonroutine tasks, particularly those requiring high levels of interpersonal interaction.


Offshoring Task trade Labor markets Globalization 

JEL Classification

F16 J21 L23 



Funding for this project was provided by the Center for International Business Education and Research, UCLA Anderson School of Management and by the National Science Foundation under grant number 0961735. We thank Sebastien Breau, Michael Manville, Michael Storper, participants at the 2009 North American Regional Science Council conference, and an anonymous referee for comments that significantly improved the quality of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Kiel Institute 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public PolicyUNC Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUCLALos AngelesUSA

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