The economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis has already disproportionately harmed female workers, and new research suggests they’ll bear the brunt of automation efforts designed to avoid future pandemics.
A new staff working paper from the Bank of Canada finds that women are at greater risk of being displaced in the labour market if certain sectors accelerate automation.
“Covid-19 and the threat of future pandemics have the potential to speed the process of automation, as employers replace workers with robots and computers that are unaffected by disease,” it said.
While this sort of technological change “will increase productivity and wages in some occupations… workers in other occupations may be displaced and face large lifetime earnings losses,” the paper said.
The researchers seek to identify jobs that are at risk from a heightened push to automate in response to the pandemic.
Looking at U.S. labour markets, the researchers found little overlap between an occupation’s potential for automation and virus transmission risk. While the “American Heartland has a high concentration of jobs with automation potential,” the risk from viral transmission is highest on the East Coast.
Instead, the researchers found important demographic differences.
“We find that females are about twice as likely as males to be in occupations that are at high risk of both Covid-19 transmission and automation,” the paper said.
“In particular, occupations with mid to low wages held by females in the United States with mid to low levels of education are at highest risk,” the researchers found.
This finding is also reflected in comparable data for 25 other countries, the paper said, concluding that “women are also at highest risk internationally.”