The increasing ability of technology to replace workers in performing easier-to-codify “routine” tasks has been singled out in the literature as the main driver of “job polarisation”, i.e. the decline in the share of mid-pay mid-skill jobs observed in several developed countries. Recent contributions, however, have highlighted that the occupational wage patterns observed in many countries do not fit the predictions of the so-called routine-biased technology change (RBTC) hypothesis, igniting a debate among scholars and policy makers on the importance of technology in driving changes in the occupational structure.
This paper studies the contribution of different skill groups to the polarisation of the UK labour market. We show that the large increase in graduate numbers contributed to the substantial reallocation of employment from middling to top occupations which is the main feature of the polarisation process in the UK over the past three decades. The increase in the number of immigrants, on the other hand, does not account for any particular aspect of the polarisation in the UK. Changes in the skill mix of the workforce account for most of the decline in routine employment across the occupational distribution, but within-group changes account for most of the decline in routine occupations in middling occupations. In addition, there is no clear indication of polarisation within all skill groups—a fact that previous literature has cited as evidence that technology drives the decline of middling occupations. These findings differ substantially from previous evidence on the US and cast doubts on the role of technology as the main driver of polarisation in the UK.
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