Technology and the Task Content of Jobs across the Development Spectrum
Technology is the driver of labor allocation across sectors and occupations. Is the impact of technological change on developing countries similar to its impact on developed countries? Will developing countries follow the same development path that developed economies have taken? Our approach focuses on how technology shifts and reshapes the tasks workers perform on the job, and views occupations as the natural observable stand-in for these tasks. We first take stock of our knowledge on how technological change reallocates labor. We then construct a new measure of occupational task contents for each country and present new evidence on countries' task intensity. In the cross section, developed countries use non-routine analytical and interpersonal tasks more intensively than developing countries, but less intensively use routine-cognitive and routine-manual tasks. Both the occupational employment share and the occupational task contents of a country matter for these relationships. In the time dimension, countries with high initial task intensities experienced a decline in these intensities, suggesting convergence in task intensities across countries. Our results show that occupational task contents ought to be measured for each country for proper analysis. More broadly, we should not simply extrapolate what we know about the impact of technology on the labor market in developed countries to developing countries.
This paper is an invited contribution to the Structural Transformation and Economic Growth (STEG) initiative of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Caunedo and Keller gratefully acknowledge CEPR's financial support. We greatly benefited from many helpful suggestions by Doug Gollin, Joe Kaboski, other members of STEG's Academic Steering Committee, and an anonymous reviewer. We thank Lucia Casal and Luming Chen for their outstanding research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.