Closing The Gap

Technology could widen the gender employment gap, the IMF warns

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Technology is often espoused as a great leveler, enabling sudden and sweeping economic progress for huge swathes of society.

But it could also play a role in perpetuating a major societal divide: The gender employment gap.

That's according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund, which found that women face a greater threat of losing their jobs to technology than their male counterparts.

Up to 26 million women in major economies could see their jobs displaced within the next two decades, if technology continues at its current rate, the IMF found.

That puts 11% at high risk (a 70% likelihood) of job disruption compared to 9% of men, which the report said could lead to a further widening of the pay gap between men and women.

The disparity noted by the report is led primarily by occupational divides, which see women disproportionately represented in low-skilled, clerical and sales roles that are routine-heavy and therefore prone to automation. That's a result of both "self-selection" — women choosing certain professions — as well as exposure, the report said.

"We find that women, on average, perform more routine or codifiable tasks than men across all sectors and occupations ― tasks that are more prone to automation," the report's authors wrote.

"Moreover, women perform fewer tasks requiring analytical input or abstract thinking (e.g., information-processing skills), where technological change can be complementary to human skills and improve labor productivity," it added.

Measuring 'routineness'

The IMF researchers developed a "routine task intensity" (RTI) index to measure the so-called routineness of various occupations and then broke that down by the gender make-up of each role.

On average, the RTI index was 13 percent higher for women workers than men, due to "women typically performing fewer tasks requiring analytical and interpersonal skills or physical labor," the report said.

The index' results were not uniform, however, the report said.

The gender routineness gap was far lower in Central Europe and Scandanavia, while it was among its highest in Japan, the Slovak Republic, Singapore and Estonia. The IMF said that was likely "indicative of countries' positions along the automation path" as well as long-standing gender biases.

Meanwhile, the report also found oldest, less well-educated women to be at the greatest risk of job automation, adding that recent decades have seen more young women shift away from clerical and low-skilled occupations toward service and professional jobs.

"Women are increasingly selecting into jobs that are more insulated from displacement by technology," the report said.

"Gender automation gaps between men and women are smaller for younger cohorts even among workers facing the highest risk of automation (e.g., less-well educated, in clerical and sales positions)."

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