Automation and Gender: Implications for Occupational Segregation and the Gender Skill Gap

Occupational segregation by gender, although still sizable, has decreased significantly over the last decades. Women have also made marked gains in education relative to men, with the gender gap in college reversing in favor of women since the 1990s. In this paper, we examine the contribution of automation to both these phenomena. Specifically, we analyze the effects of automation on the occupational structure of men and women as well as gender differences in skill investments. Exploiting cross-commuting zone variation in the share of workers in occupations with a high risk of automation, we show that women, for a given shock in the risk of automation, were much more likely than men to transition out of routine task intensive occupations to occupations requiring higher levels of skill. The net effect is that labor markets that were more affected by automation experienced greater occupational integration. We examine potential channels such as the growing demand for social skills and women’s greater ability to upskill. Consistent with these channels, we find that labor markets that were more susceptible to automation saw larger increases in the share of women completing college relative to men and greater movements of women into occupations with high math and high social skills requirements.

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