This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Three Essays in Labor Economics




Cowell, Zachary

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




I focus on the task content of work and its effects on labor market outcomes. In Chapter 1, I estimate the impact of an individual’s occupational tasks on decisions to claim disability insurance. I show that changes in the intensity of worker tasks across and within occupations are essential in understanding decisions to apply for disability. I find that workers in occupations that are higher in routine tasks are more likely to apply for SSDI. On the other hand, workers in occupations that require more non-routine tasks, both cognitive and non-cognitive, are less likely to shift out of the workforce and onto disability insurance. Of the workers who apply for SSDI, those in more routine intensive occupations have higher award rates due to work-related health impairments. Taken together with changes to the requirements of work, the Social Security Administration might expect disability claiming rates to be lower in the future. In Chapter Two, I investigate how the task content of work changed from the early-2000s to the late-2010s for different age-race/ethnicity-gender groups. I find that White men transition into occupations that are more intensive in non-routine cognitive tasks early in their careers, whereas Hispanic and Black men work physically demanding jobs over their entire working lives. Increases in routine manual tasks increase for all workers 55-67 years old except Asian men and women. Chapter 3 examines the effects of the emergency switch to remote instruction because of COVID-19 on the research productivity of NBER-affiliated and IZA-affiliated professors. I find that remote instruction caused a temporary increase in the number of working papers produced by researchers. Further, the number of weeks of remote instruction did not influence the overall number of papers produced. Using the number of weeks until the first case COVID-19 case as an instrument for the number of weeks remote, I find similar results, corroborating previous findings.