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Women, Automation, and the Future of Work presents the first comprehensive gender analysis of the potential impact of technological change on jobs in the United States, with an emphasis on the likely effects for women. While the report makes clear that there is no consensus on the impact of technology on the number of jobs—indeed, employment may grow even as many jobs are displaced—the study explores how gender segregation of the U.S. labor market and trends in digitalizing jobs, gig work, and high-tech fields signal a potential trajectory toward greater gender inequality in the future of work. However, if policymakers, employers and workers invest in new technologies, job training, and career development, gains from automation and related advances can increase economic opportunity and security for all, reducing inequality and increasing upward mobility.

Major findings from the study include:

Women are a majority (58 percent) of workers in jobs that are at high risk of automation even though they make up less than half (47 percent) of the U.S. workforce. Hispanic women face the highest risk of job automation with one in three working in high-risk occupations.

For women, technology is particularly likely to threaten well-paying jobs. The risk of automation is greatest for men in low-wage jobs, but women’s risk of automation is distributed across better and lower paid occupations, including many jobs in office and administration that have traditionally served as a bridge to the middle class. While women workers are also concentrated in the jobs least likely to be replaced by technology—such as child care, elder care, and education—these “safe” jobs often pay less at each level of education and provide less access to benefits than many jobs at higher risks of automation.

Women face a 41 percent earnings gap with men in returns on digital skills. Women are more likely than men to work with computers and digital media and, while earnings for both women and men increase with greater “digitalization,” the returns are significantly higher for men than for women.

For women, making a living wage without being digitally literate is increasingly impossible. Well-paying jobs that do not require high digital skills—such as carpenters or brick layers—are performed mostly by men.

The share of women working in the three largest high-tech jobs—which will shape innovations of the future—has fallen over the past 20 years. The share of women working as Computer Scientists and Systems Analysts, Software Developers, and Computer Support Specialists has declined since 2000. The likelihood of working in computing jobs is also shaped by race and gender dynamics: Hispanic women, for example, are 76 percent less likely to work in such jobs than suggested by their share of the workforce. While the number of women in these jobs has increased, the number of men has increased faster. Programs to increase the number of women in these jobs are popular and must expand further to give women a better chance to participate in STEM jobs that determine the future of automation and AI.

While opening new employment opportunities for women, “gig” work is highly gender segregated, just like the U.S. labor market as a whole. Women are approximately as likely as men to do gig work—selling products or finding jobs through digital platforms, temporary employment agencies, or self-employment—but such work arrangements remain relatively marginal as a share of total employment. Women gig workers still experience unequal pay, disparate work conditions, and less flexibility in female-dominated platform work, yet platforms have given women, including women of color, new opportunities in entrepreneurship and male-dominated fields.

The future of caregiving will shape the future of work. Robots may supplement, but not replace, the need for human care and trends in paid and unpaid care work are critical to understanding the future of work. Personal care aides is the fastest growing occupation in the United States, yet low pay and poor job quality in many of these care jobs threaten the economic security of women workers, particularly women of color and immigrants. Women also continue to perform the majority of unpaid care. Automation holds the potential to improve both unpaid and paid care work, if appropriate investments are made in technological advances.

For more information: New research suggests automation could widen inequality between women and men in the US labor market

Institute for Women's Policy Research

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