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Structural Transformation in the OECD: Digitalisation, Deindustrialisation and the Future of Work

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  • Thor Berger

    (Oxford University)

  • Carl Benedikt Frey

    (Oxford University)

Abstract

In tandem with the diffusion of computer technologies, labour markets across the OECD have undergone rapid structural transformation. In this paper, we examine i) the impact of technological change on labour market outcomes since the computer revolution of the 1980s, and ii) recent developments in digital technology – including machine learning and robotics – and their potential impacts on the future of work. While it is evident that the composition of the workforce has shifted dramatically over recent decades, in part as a result of technological change, the impacts of digitalisation on the future of jobs are far from certain. On the one hand, accumulating anecdotal evidence shows that the potential scope of automation has expanded beyond routine work, making technological change potentially increasingly labour-saving: according to recent estimates 47 percent of US jobs are susceptible to automation over the forthcoming decades. On the other hand, there is evidence suggesting that digital technologies have not created many new jobs to replace old ones: an upper bound estimate is that around 0.5 percent of the US workforce is employed in digital industries that emerged throughout the 2000s. Nevertheless, at first approximation, there is no evidence to suggest that the computer revolution so far has reduced overall demand for jobs as technologically stagnant sectors of the economy – including health care, government and personal services – continue to create vast employment opportunities. Looking forward, however, we argue that as the potential scope of automation is expanding, many sectors that have been technologically stagnant in the past are likely to become technologically progressive in the future. While we should expect a future surge in productivity as a result, the question of whether gains from increases in productivity will be widely shared depends on policy responses. Parallèlement à la diffusion des technologies numériques, les marchés du travail dans la zone OCDE ont subi une rapide transformation structurelle. Dans cet article, nous allons examiner i) l'impact des changements technologiques sur la performance du marché du travail depuis la révolution informatique des années 1980 et ii) les développements récents en matière de technologie numérique, y compris de l'apprentissage machine [machine learning] et de la robotique, ainsi que leurs impacts potentiels sur l'avenir du travail. Bien qu'il soit évident que la composition de la main-d'oeuvre a radicalement changé au cours des dernières décennies, en partie en raison de l'évolution technologique, les impacts de la numérisation sur l'avenir des emplois sont loin d'être certains. D'une part, il semblerait que la portée potentielle de l'automatisation s'est développée au-delà du travail de routine, rendant les changements technologiques potentiellement de plus en plus générateurs d'économies de main-d'oeuvre : au cours des prochaines décennies, selon des estimations récentes, 47 % des emplois américains pourront être automatisés. D'autre part, il existe des preuves suggérant que les technologies numériques n'ont pas créé beaucoup de nouveaux emplois pour remplacer les anciens et une estimation de la limite supérieure montre que la main-d'oeuvre des États-Unis n’est utilisée qu’à hauteur de 0,5 % dans les industries numériques qui ont émergé au cours des années 2000. Néanmoins, à ce jour, sur la base d’une première estimation, il n'y a aucune preuve que la révolution informatique ait réduit la demande globale pour les emplois dans les secteurs de l´économie qui sont technologiquement en stagnation, y compris dans les soins de santé, l’administration et les services aux personnes, qui continuent à engager du personnel et à créer de larges possibilités d'emploi. À l'avenir, cependant, nous estimons que la portée potentielle de l'automatisation est en pleine expansion, de nombreux secteurs qui ont été technologiquement stagnants par le passé sont susceptibles de progresser technologiquement à l'avenir. Par conséquent, nous devons nous attendre à une future hausse de la productivité. En revanche, la question de savoir si les gains provenant des augmentations de productivité seront amplement partagés dépend des réponses politiques.

Suggested Citation

  • Thor Berger & Carl Benedikt Frey, 2016. "Structural Transformation in the OECD: Digitalisation, Deindustrialisation and the Future of Work," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 193, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaab:193-en
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jlr068802f7-en
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    Keywords

    digitalisation; future of work;

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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