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De Economist

, Volume 159, Issue 4, pp 435–482

First Online: 02 June 2011


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.

KeywordsTrade in tasks Division of labour Offshoring Richard Baldwin, Luis Garicano, George Gelauff, Edward Glaeser, Suzanne Kok, Arjan Lejour, Anna Salomons, the editor and two referees gave very useful feedback on an earlier version of this research. Seminar audiences at the CPB, IZA in Bonn, the NSI seminar at Maastricht University, the NL2040 workshop at the Ministry of Finance in the Netherlands, the T.A.S.K.S. Workshop at IAB in Nuremberg, the University of Groningen and ZEW are acknowledged for helpful suggestions. Akçomak acknowledges support from the Network Social Innovation NSI of Maastricht University.

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Autor: İ. Semih Akçomak - Lex Borghans - Bas ter Weel


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