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Women are less likely to be replaced by robots and might even benefit from automation

Research shows women are better positioned than men to resist the automation of work and possibly even benefit from it.

Research shows women are better positioned than men to resist the automation of work and possibly even benefit from it.


Women are overrepresented in industries that require high levels of social skills and empathy (such as nursing, teaching and care work), where it would be difficult to replace a human worker with automation. Women in advanced economies also have, on average, higher levels of education and digital literacy, giving them a comparative advantage in a labour market that is continuously transformed by technological innovation.

The fear that robots could one day wipe out most of human labour is likely unjustified, as discussed in several studies. In fact, the risk of digitalisation varies considerably across jobs, depending on what tasks and skills are involved.

For instance, jobs that involve physical work for longer or using fingers or hands are at a significantly higher risk of digitalisation than jobs that involve presenting to or training others. Similarly, jobs that require literacy and problem solving are at lower risk than jobs that require numeracy.

The economics of ‘women’s work’ and automation

Technological innovation, of which automation is a form, changes the way in which work is organised and performed across different economic sectors.

Typically, this process has resulted in a progressive shift from unskilled to skilled labour, with the former becoming more casual and disposable. At the same time, new technologies have opened up opportunities for flexible work arrangements, distance learning and training, and networking.

As a result of this transformation, certain professions that traditionally had more women (for example clerical and service occupations) grew in size, thus increasing opportunities for female employment.

While automation could also threaten jobs in other sectors with high female participation (for example assembly type manufacturing or labour-intensive agriculture), historically the effect of innovation in the work sector seems to have increased demand for female labour and participation.

Nowadays, the interaction between technological and societal changes plays a critical role. Shifts in the wage structure (for example higher demand and hence higher wages for skilled labour) combined with women attaining higher levels of education and changing marital choices, make participation in the labour force both easier and more attractive to a larger number of women. This is particularly the case in more economically developed countries.

Overall, the economic argument suggests that while some sectors where a lot of women work might be vulnerable to digitalisation, women are, in general, at lower risk than men and could in fact benefit from an increase in employment opportunities.

The evidence is in the data

Estimating the impact of automation on female labour participation is not an easy task. In particular, it is difficult to isolate this impact from other factors that determine participation. So, early research on this tends to rely on qualitative analysis of specific case studies.

More recently, advances in research methods and data availability have led to assessments which confirm the potential benefits of automation for female participation and employment.

The main caveat here is that often this research refers to the United States and/or a relatively small group of advanced (OECD) countries.

For instance, a 2016 study points to the fact that technological progress in the household sector is a key driver of the observed increase in married female labour force participation in the US. This is not just an improvement in appliances, but also the fact that many women do not need to stay home to raise their children. It also takes into account a change in the way we do things at home (for example frozen or delivered meals as opposed to cooked meals that take hours to prepare).

Along similar lines, an OECD study, also published in 2016, shows that after controlling for a variety of factors, the risk of jobs becoming automated is significantly lower for women than it is for men.

Another very recent contribution compares the risk of digitalisation of jobs across eight advanced economies (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Japan, and Korea). Two main conclusions emerge from the data.

First, women are at no higher risk than men and often they are at lower risk. The only exception is Japan, where the risk of digitalisation for men is significantly lower.

Second, low-skilled occupations are generally most at risk. However, within these occupations, women face a significantly lower risk than men (again with the only exception of Japan, where the risk in low-skilled occupations is practically the same for men and women).

This is because, in advanced economies, women tend to be employed in occupations that require high levels of social competence and empathy (for example nursing professions) and are therefore more resistant to automation than other lower-skills occupations such as machine operators or assembly line workers.

Far from destroying all jobs, automation seems to be changing occupations in a way that benefits women more than men. This does not mean that automation alone will eliminate any form of gender gap in the labour market. However, it does mean that women have less to fear than men, and probably more to benefit, from the advent of robots.

Fabrizio Carmignani, Professor, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

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  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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