A Replication Study of Alan Blinder’s “How Many U.S. Jobs Might Be Offshorable?”
Executive Summary — The movement of business activity from developed economies to developing economies—commonly called offshoring—has become the focus of heated debates. Behind these debates lies a pivotal question of scale: How much business activity and how many jobs are at stake? Official statistics are nearly silent, and private-sector researchers vary widely in their estimates of the number of U.S. jobs that have moved offshore, will move offshore, or could move offshore. In an effort to address this gap in prior literature, Princeton economist Alan Blinder released an innovative working paper in 2007 in which he personally reviewed more than 800 occupations in the United States, assessed the "offshorability" of each, and used the evaluations to estimate the total number of U.S. jobs that might be offshorable. Here, HBS research associate Troy Smith and Professor Jan W. Rivkin describe an online exercise that allowed 152 teams of HBS MBA students, collectively, to recreate Blinder's study and to develop insights about the future of offshoring. Key concepts include:
- The surge in the number of potentially offshorable jobs in recent decades suggests that fewer business activities are tied to a specific location. More often, the laws of economics drive the geography of business activity.
- Some of the most creative applications of offshoring have taken jobs, broken them down into component tasks, bundled them in new ways, and relocated each new bundle to the place where its tasks can be completed best or cheapest.
- This opportunity to rethink the fundamental grouping of tasks, not just to adjust the geographic array of historical "job" bundles, gives businesspeople a broad menu of new options for taking advantage of differences across borders.
In a 2007 working paper, Alan Blinder assessed the "offshorability" of hundreds of U.S. occupations and estimated that between 22% and 29% of all U.S. jobs were potentially offshorable. This note reports the results of an exercise in which members of Harvard Business School's MBA Class of 2009 collectively attempted to replicate Blinder's study. Overall, the MBA students' assessments of offshorability matched Blinder's well. Across occupations, the correlation between Blinder's offshorability rating and the students' was 0.60. The students estimated that between 21% and 42% of U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable. Echoing Blinder, the student data suggested a positive correlation between offshorability and education. The student data also revealed a positive or inverted-U relationship between offshorability and wage level, where Blinder found no correlation. While Blinder found a slight wage penalty for the most offshorable jobs, the student data exhibited no evidence of wage depreciation from job contestability due to offshoring.