Women & young at highest risk of automation job losses

An English study finds that women, younger workers and those in part-time roles are at most risk of job displacement by automation technologies.
25 March 2019

Waitresses and waiters are some of the roles at highest risk. Source: Shutterstock

We often talk away the impact of automation as freeing up workers of mundane tasks for more valuable or creative work. But where will those discussions lead when an entire gender is more at risk than another?

According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), seventy percent of jobs at the highest risk from automation currently in England are held by women.

Analysis of the jobs of 20 million people in 2017 revealed that 7.4 percent were at risk of being replaced. That led to estimates that 1.5 million people in England could lose their jobs as automation technology becomes prevalent.

Besides those primarily held by women, roles held by part-timers and the young were also considered high risk.

The trend for women could partially be explained by changing working patterns around the age of 35, with a higher ratio than men moving into part-time roles.

People who work part-time are more likely to work in roles at a higher risk of automation,” says the ONS, “but ultimately your occupation determines the probability of automation, not your working pattern.”

The ONS defines automation as a technology which carries out the work of a human. That comprises anything from computer programs, robotic process automation (RPA), or even industrial robots.

Much like the US, the sectors most at risk of automation are those that are low-skilled, routine or repetitive. That includes the food industry (i.e, waiters and waitresses), shelf fillers, and certain sales roles.

Those at the lowest risk are in medicine, higher education teaching and senior professionals in education.

In its report, the ONS stresses the importance of understanding automation, owed to its potential impact on the labor market, economy, and society.

Despite the findings, it also noted that the proportion of jobs at high risk of automation decreased slightly between 2011 and 2017, from 8.1 percent to 7.4 percent, while those at low and medium risk have risen.

It suggests this may be a result of some jobs already becoming automated, such as the use of self-checkouts within supermarkets, while the labor market may already be shifting towards jobs that require more complex and less routine skills.

While the analysis found that 70.2 percent of the roles at risk of automation were held by women, young workers— or those aged between 20 to 24 years— are most at risk of their jobs being automated compared to other age groups.

The ONS explains the pattern by the fact that workers will obtain skills and become more knowledgeable as they progress in their careers. However, it also notes that younger workers will have more time and opportunity to retrain and change career paths.

Among workers of this younger age group, 15.7 percent were in what were considered to be high-risk jobs. The risk declines the older the age group gets until 40 to 44 years upwards, where it starts to rise again.