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Who’s Working From Home: The Education Divide

By Anthony P. Carnevale and Megan L. Fasules

As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended regular life in the US, working from home has become a mandate for most and a pipe dream for others. More apparent now than ever is the stark divide between professional and technical occupations and occupations that require face-to-face interaction. While everyone deserves a safe work environment, the varying nature of jobs makes that an impossible challenge.

So, who gets the advantage of working from home? In general, jobs that require higher levels of education are more readily transferable to a home work environment. This is the case for workers with higher levels of education across occupations, and it’s reflected in the occupations that have higher concentrations of workers with more education. The three occupational groups listed below have the greatest share of workers who can do their jobs at home.

  1. Education: 98 percent of teachers, professors, librarians, and others who work in the education system
  2. Managerial and professional office: 82 percent of chief executives, managers, accountants and auditors, lawyers, and others in this occupational group
  3. STEM: 82 percent of computer programmers, engineers, economists, astronomers, physicists, and others working in STEM and the social sciences

Healthcare professional and technical occupations are an exception. These workers require high levels of education, but only 6 percent are able to work from home. Of course, amid the pandemic, these workers remain essential to combating the health crisis, often on an in-person basis.

Face-to-face industries have been hardest hit — and they tend to employ workers without college degrees. For blue-collar and food and personal services workers, social distancing has created a devastating new reality. Just 11 percent of food and personal services workers — including waiters, janitors, barbers, and childcare workers — are able to perform their jobs from home. And only 1 percent of workers in blue-collar occupations — such as carpenters, construction laborers, mechanics, and bus drivers — can work from home.

Figure 1. Occupations with a greater share of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to work from home.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2014–18, and the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Occupational Information Network (O*NET) 24.0 database, 2019.

Note: Employment size is for prime-age, full-time, full-year workers.

To be clear, just because workers in some occupations are more readily able to conduct their jobs from home doesn’t mean they all have work to do. The coronavirus pandemic prompted a recession that has affected many businesses and their workers, even if indirectly. Recruiters are a good example. As businesses directly affected by the pandemic cut their costs, many have put a hold on hiring new employees. So even though it’s possible to recruit from home, there may not be as many jobs to place as there were just a few months ago.

In the end, there’s no guarantee that some jobs are safeguarded from the current pandemic, or that they will not be affected by an entirely different crisis in the future. But in hard times, we continue to see that workers with higher levels of education fare better in the economy.

To determine which workers are likely to perform their jobs from home, we connected occupation groups with O*NET survey responses that indicate an ability to work from home following methodology developed by Dingel and Neiman. This analysis is part of a forthcoming report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Dr. Carnevale is Director and Research Professor and Dr. Fasules is Assistant Research Professor and Research Economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. CEW is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.

Follow the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce on Twitter (@GeorgetownCEW), LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook.

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The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit, independent research institute that studies the link between education and the workforce.

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Anthony P. Carnevale

Anthony P. Carnevale

Director and Research Professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute.

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