Staff Report 509

An Assignment Model of Knowledge Diffusion and Income Inequality

Erzo G.J. Luttmer | Visiting Scholar

Published March 27, 2015

Randomness in individual discovery disperses productivities, whereas learning from others keeps productivities together. Long-run growth and persistent earnings inequality emerge when these two mechanisms for knowledge accumulation are combined. This paper considers an economy in which those with more useful knowledge can teach others, with competitive markets assigning students to teachers. In equilibrium, students with an ability to learn quickly are assigned to teachers with the most productive knowledge. This sorting on ability implies large differences in earnings distributions conditional on ability, as shown using explicit formulas for the tail behavior of these distributions.

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