The Robots are Coming for Men

Women are less likely to lose their jobs in the age of artificial intelligence.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

It’s not globalization that’s taking jobs. It’s the robots. Especially if you’re a guy.

That’s the key finding from a new report from the U.K. arm of the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, highlighted by Neha Thirani Bagri at Quartz. The report predicts that within 15 years, about 30 percent of British jobs will be automated, with 26 percent of traditionally female jobs deemed at high risk for being automated compared to 35 percent of men’s. There’s a race to automate trucking, but not so much nursing.

That’s largely because routine, manual tasks are easier to automate than those requiring social skills or emotional intelligence, and “men’s work” tends to be crafting things by hand, while “women’s work” includes teaching or serving other people, jobs where social intelligence is key. Both U.K. transportation and manufacturing will shed about half their labor in the next 15 years, while just 17 percent of health and social work jobs are predicted to be automated.

Michael Littman, a computer science professor at Brown University, once broke down what makes robots suitable for a particular task like this: When a task is fixed and repetitive, it’s easy for a machine to take it over. But when it’s fluid and context-sensitive, like just about any social interaction, humans are going to be way better at it. Put into athletic terms, machines are already better than people at shotput — they’re called cannons. But we’re a long way off from seeing a robot win gold in figure skating.

Big, scary economic trends are already showing how this plays out. Innovation creates efficiency. It also cuts jobs. From 1962 to 2006, the steel industry shed three quarters of its workforce — a full 400,000 people — while maintaining stable production and shipment figures. From 2000 to 2010, the U.S. lost 5.6 million manufacturing jobs; the Financial Times reports that 85 percent of those losses could be attributed to changes in technology, namely automation.

Other research suggests that the jobs that are being added in America are traditionally feminine, too. They tend to be care-giving, like in-home assistants for the elderly, nurse practitioners and occupational therapists — markets that are only going to get bigger as the over-65 population doubles by 2050. Last week, the Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat explained to us that in traditionally blue collar communities, your identity is largely wrapped up in your work. “For men who grew up in these communities, where men did physically demanding jobs, there was satisfaction in doing physically difficult work, even if the paychecks weren’t huge.” What’s happening now, then, is a collision between what it traditionally means to be masculine and what it practically means to hold a job. With the rise of artificial intelligence, being a “real man” may make a guy less employable. To make it through the robot takeover, then, you might want to work on the skills that help you serve your fellow man.