Taking to Task Task-Biased Technological Change

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Mark Williams, University of Surrey, Surrey, United Kingdom
Thijs Bol, University of Amserdam, Amsterdam, NE, Netherlands
Changes in workplace organization have led to a considerable change in, not only the occupational structure, but the kinds of tasks performed, even within occupations. Demand for job tasks have emerged as a central explanation for the growing divergence in the wage structure, primarily through the polarizing effect of technology through the demand for tasks hollowing out the occupational structure. Although a growing body of evidence suggests that labour markets are polarizing in most developed countries, the effect of the underlying polarizing dynamics for earnings is less well-established.  Using direct measures of job tasks from the British Skills and Employment Surveys (1997-2012), we provide an account of recent changes in the British wage distribution and its association with changes in the demand for job tasks. Over this period, we find considerable shifts in the kinds of tasks performed at work, with a substantial upskilling across most domains, and all parts of the earnings distribution, the sharpest being in computer-use for lower-paid workers. We show upskilling explains some of the rising earnings of the low-paid, although the minimum wage explains most of the change. Results for the demand of tasks amongst higher earners are much more mixed, with other factors being much more important. We conclude that the demand for job tasks is a better explanation for changes in the labour market structure than the earnings structure.