The Route out of the Routine: Where do the Displaced Routine Workers Go?

Over the previous three decades, technological progress has driven a shift in theoccupational structure of many countries, including the UK. Some jobs are comprisedof a number of tasks which could be replaced by information and communicationstechnology capital. These jobs are referred to as routine in the sense that the tasksperformed by workers in them tend to follow a series of instructions, which could bereplicated by an appropriately programmed machine. This process is often referred toas routinisation (Autor, Levy and Murnane 2003). Along with the related phenomenaof polarisation, much of the discussion has been on the implications of these changesfor wage inequality (Goos and Manning 2007, Autor, Katz and Kearney 2006a).However, changes in the occupational structure have potentially important effects onmobility as well, but as yet these effects have not been rigorously analysed. Withimproving upward mobility often mentioned as an ambition of successivegovernments, it is important to establish what barriers exists in order to devisepolicies to overcome them.
One aspect of changes to mobility prospects can be examined by looking at the labourmarket outcomes of employees displaced by routinisation. A key question is whetherthese workers are able to move to well-paid non-routine jobs, and if they are, whatfactors contribute to this upward mobility? Using data from the National ChildDevelopment Study (NCDS), this paper presents a mobility analysis of these routineworkers between 1981 and 2004. As expected, periods where the employment shareof routine jobs fell markedly across the entire economy were periods which witnessedincreased mobility of routine workers towards both high and low wage non-routinejobs. The relationship between routinisation and mobility is mediated through thequalification levels, specific skills and experience of workers.

Publication number: 
Publication Date: 
01 June 2011
University of Oxford
Publication Type: 
working paper