While the world worries about savvy computers taking people's jobs, it may want to focus more on how to retrain its men, who are evidently ill-equipped for work that's increasingly social.
For a research paper titled "The 'End of Men' and Rise of Women in the High-Skilled Labor Market," presented by the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research, economics professors Guido Matias Cortes, Nir Jaimovich, and Henry E. Siu studied occupational data from 1980 and 2000 – yeah, bang up to date – and found that demand for socials skills has increased in high-skill, high-wage jobs.
This has, in turn, increased opportunities for women in these plum positions because, we're told, they are better are communicating, working together, and so on.
"Using occupation-level data, we find evidence that this relative increase in the demand for female skills is due to an increasing importance of social skills within such occupations," the paper, out this month, stated. "Evidence from both male and female wages is also indicative of an increase in the demand for social skills."
Prof Cortes (of York University in Ontario, Canada), Jaimovich (University of Zurich, Switzerland), and Siu (University of British Columbia, Canada) observed that in 1980, 66 per cent of highly skilled men worked in professions oriented toward cognitive skills.
By 2000 – which happens to be when the first dot-com boom went bust – that figure had declined by 3 percentage points to 63 per cent.
During the same period, the percentage of women working in cognitive professions increased by 4.6 percentage points, from 54.2 per cent to 58.8 per cent.
And the report authors noted that women's improved employment prospects in cognition-oriented professions occurred despite the even larger increase in the number of college-educated women relative to men entering the workforce.
The paper took as granted "that women have a comparative advantage at tasks that involve 'brains' as opposed to 'brawn,'" with the authors citing various academic papers to that effect.
In a phone interview with The Register, Cortes said he and his colleagues didn't look specifically at the tech industry, where women are still underrepresented in technical positions.
"We see that there's this rise of women in high-paying jobs and it's due to the increasing importance of interpersonal skills," he said.
Cortes said it isn't so much that men are being left behind as women are catching up – more men as a percentage still occupy high-paying jobs than women.
But Cortes speculates that technology may be partly to blame because it can help replace non-social labor that, for whatever reason, has tended to involve men more than women.
"What's left is more interpersonal work," he said, noting that people in surveys say they value a doctor for being friendly or a lawyer who takes the time to chat.
Cortes said the growing emphasis on collaboration in workplaces deserves investigation, too.
"We also think probably that the importance of teamwork is going up," he said, even as he cautioned the research doesn't address that directly. ®