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  • Writer's picturePeter Blair

Peter Blair | Faculty Profile


Peter Blair, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce

Peter Blair, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce, is an economist and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He serves as a faculty research fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research and as the principal investigator of the Blair Economics Lab, a multi-university collaboration that focuses on supply-side issues in higher education, the effects of occupational licensing on labor market discrimination, and the link between residential segregation and educational outcomes. Blair served as a volunteer economist with the Council of Economic Advisers during the Biden–Harris presidential transition.


Blair received his Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, his M.Sc. in theoretical physics from Harvard University, and his B.Sc. in physics and mathematics from Duke University.


 

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Selected Projects


The Blair Economics Lab (BE-Lab) is an Economics research group based at Harvard University in the Graduate School of Education. Our research in applied micro-theory focuses on supply-side issues in higher education, the effects of occupational licensing on labor market discrimination, and the link between residential segregation and educational outcomes.


Selected Research


Past research highlights significant racial occupational segregation in the U.S. labor force. However, recent studies on this subject, especially concerning education levels and their intersection with race, are lacking. The paper fills this gap by analyzing racial occupational segregation from 1980 to 2019 using dissimilarity indices and Monte Carlo simulations. We find persistent segregation regardless of education, with levels higher than expected. This segregation impacts wage inequality between Black and white workers, indicating a stalled desegregation despite increased educational attainment among Black workers.

In theory, unilateral divorce laws alter the private incentive to invest in human capital by permitting either spouse to initiate the division of the marital assets. Using several causal research designs we show that both men and women are less likely to attain a bachelor’s degree in states with unilateral divorce laws—especially individuals who were exposed to the laws when making educational choices and who live in states requiring an even split of assets upon divorce. Unilateral divorce laws do not distort human capital investment generically—but rather in contexts where the property division laws invite moral hazard.


Why Did Gender Wage Convergence in the United States Stall? | National Bureau of Economic Research

During the 1980s, the wage gap between white women and white men in the US declined by approximately 1 percentage point per year. In the decades since, the rate of gender wage convergence has stalled to less than one-third of its previous value. An outstanding puzzle in economics is "why did gender wage convergence in the US stall?" Using an event study design that exploits the timing of state and federal family-leave policies, we show that the introduction of the policies can explain 94% of the reduction in the rate of gender wage convergence that is unaccounted for after controlling for changes in observable characteristics of workers. If gender wage convergence had continued at the pre-family leave rate, wage parity between white women and white men would have been achieved as early as 2017.

We analyze the impact of occupational licensing on online marketplaces, focusing on a home services industry platform. With 21 million observations, we find licensing reduces service provider acceptance rates by 25%, not due to increased customer search. Our model shows licensing diminishes service provider and platform surplus without benefiting consumers.



Selected Media


The article discusses the limitations of education as a tool for economic mobility for Black workers in America despite an increase in the number of Black workers with college degrees. Research shows that occupational segregation persists, with Black workers more likely to be employed in middle-wage jobs compared to their white counterparts. The study attributes this to structural racism and emphasizes the importance of addressing racial disparities in higher-paying fields. Occupational segregation contributes to income inequality, with white workers earning more than their Black counterparts. Efforts to address these issues include programs which provide training and pathways to upward mobility for workers in allied health occupations, aiming to mitigate racial disparities in the workforce.

The New Future of Work: The Future of Education | SF Federal Reserve Panel Discussion

As labor market demands change in the wake of COVID-19, how will higher education evolve to prepare the next generation of workers? Can technology and remote learning change the economics of education? How can we equalize access to a college degree? And what skills should young people—and workers displaced by the pandemic—prioritize developing to position themselves for success in the economy of the future?

Degree inflation, a phenomenon where jobs increasingly require degrees despite not needing them, has deep roots in changes in job requirements driven by globalization and automation since the 1980s. Companies like IBM have already adjusted hiring practices, recognizing the value of skills beyond degrees. Efforts by organizations like Opportunity@Work and Grads of Life aim to address the issue, highlighting the skills of non-degree holders and advocating for fair hiring practices. Progress is being made, with research indicating a shift away from degree requirements in job postings. However, challenges remain in changing mindsets among employers and ensuring equitable opportunities for all workers, especially amid economic uncertainties.

Peter Blair discusses the challenge of individual universities shifting norms for expansion and envisions university leaders and stakeholders collaborating to make educational experiences accessible to more students. However, concerns arise about the private incentives of university leaders to maintain prestige. Blair emphasizes the need for coordination, acknowledging legal constraints on antitrust laws. He suggests reevaluating antitrust laws and convening universities to collaborate in expanding access without compromising quality. Blair notes past discussions on pro-social collusion among elite universities, highlighting the potential to increase social surplus through cooperation.


Selected Articles


In response to George Floyd's killing, major brands are pledging billions to support the black community, yet more action is needed from corporate executives to address systemic racism. They should prioritize skills over degrees in hiring practices to increase workforce diversity and economic opportunity. Research shows that degree requirements disproportionately impact black Americans due to historical barriers to education. Companies should focus on hiring for skills and experience, expand recruitment from non-traditional sectors, and invest in career advancement for workers without degrees. By valuing skills, companies can improve economic mobility for black workers and create a more inclusive economy.

The gender wage gap in the U.S. has remained stagnant despite narrowing in the 1980s, posing a puzzle in economics. Research suggests family-leave policies like the FMLA contributed to this stagnation. Such policies decelerated gender wage convergence, hindering women's progress in the labor market. For example, women took longer job leave spells than men, leading to statistical discrimination by firms. These policies had unintended consequences, widening the earnings gap between men and women. While family leave is crucial, policymakers must consider its impact on gender wage inequality carefully.



The study of occupational licensing is crucial for understanding labor market dynamics and addressing issues like discrimination and income inequality. Research indicates that licensing reduces labor supply and creates shortages. Licensing serves as a signal in the labor market, akin to education, due to its costliness. To make progress, more data and studies from various regions are needed to assess the costs and benefits of licensing globally. Efforts are underway to collect and analyze licensing laws worldwide, aiming to understand their broader impacts on labor markets.


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