Free DP Download 20 June 2019 - Who Is Afraid of Machines?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Who Is Afraid of Machines?  
Sotiris Blanas, Gino Gancia and Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee 
CEPR Discussion Paper No. 13802 

Since the early 1980s, computer software and industrial robots have reduced the demand for low and medium-skill workers, the young and women, especially in manufacturing industries. But these technologies have raised the demand for high-skill workers, older workers and men, especially in service industries. 

These are among the findings of new CEPR analysis of data on 10 high-income countries and 30 industries, which roughly span their entire economies, with annual observations over the period from 1982 to 2005. 

The results for women seem puzzling: even though women’s labour market outcomes have been improving over time, technology seems to have had a negative impact on their employment and relative incomes. The key to reconciling these facts lies in women’s response over the medium run. 

Robots did not replace women indiscriminately; rather, only those of lower levels of skill were replaced. At the same time, women responded by acquiring higher levels of skill, and at a faster rate than men. In similar vein, the positive effect of robots on men’s outcomes is also because men were traditionally more educated. 

The researchers highlight the importance of distinguishing between technologies that replace humans, such as robots and software, and those that are used by humans, such as information and communication technologies (ICT). The results suggest that all workers can enjoy the improvements in technology by acquiring new skills that are complementary to machines, rather than remaining in jobs that are destroyed by them. 

The results suggest that mothers bear the burden from a lack of workplace flexibility not only directly through greater career costs of family formation, but also indirectly, as fathers’ inability to respond to domestic shocks exacerbates the maternal health costs of childbearing.

Figure A1: Change in Employment Shares by Gender from 1980 to 2010 

Notes: Change in within-gender employment shares between 1980 and 2010 in the U.S., across 11 1-digit occupations: Managers+Self-employed (M/SE), Managerial Support (MSpt), Professionals (Pro), Mining Occupations (Mine), Mechanics (Mech), Technicians (Tech), Sales, Transportation (Trans), Machine Operators (Mach), Administrative Occupations (Admin), and Low-skill Services (LServ). 

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