About half of new jobs for women due to increased computer use

March 05, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Many of the women who have joined the American workforce since the 1970s have the computer revolution to thank, according to a new study.

A researcher at Ohio State University estimated that increased computer use in the workplace explains about 55 percent of the increase in the demand for women workers since the mid-1970s. Many of the new jobs are in blue-collar industries.

"Computers have opened up a lot of job opportunities for women that weren't available before," said Bruce Weinberg, author of the study and assistant professor of economics at Ohio State University.

"Many blue-collar jobs that once emphasized strength and physical skill are now done by computers, and can be done easily by women with the right skills."

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Industrial and Labor Relations Review.

For his study, Weinberg analyzed data from the federal Current Population Surveys conducted between 1970 and 1994. He looked at changes in the number of employees -- both men and women -- who used computers in various industries and occupations. He also used the data to estimate the change in demand for women workers over the time period.

He found that the percentage of Americans' total work hours that were contributed by women grew from 35 percent in 1975 to 40 percent in 1984 and 42 percent in 1993. During that time, use of computers also jumped, from 26 percent in 1984 to 49 percent in 1993.

There's a definite connection between this growth in number of women employed and growth of computer use in the workplace, Weinberg said. In fact, the analysis showed women were more likely then men to use computers on the job -- 45 percent more likely in 1984 and 33 percent more likely in 1993.

"It's significant that the industries and occupations in which computer use increased the most also experienced the greatest increase in the employment of women," Weinberg said.

As more women joined the workforce and became trained on computers, their wages increased relative to men's, the study showed. After taking into account education and other factors, Weinberg found that women's wages increased by 5.7 percent between 1975 and 1984 and by 8.7 percent between 1984 and 1993. Much of this increase in wages relative to men probably resulted from the fact that women workers were learning new computer skills, he said.

Weinberg said the growth in computer use most clearly benefited women in what he called "high blue-collar" jobs, such as craft workers, machinists and technicians.

"A lot of these jobs used to be dirty, physically demanding jobs that were done in factories or shops with poor working conditions - jobs that only attracted men," he said. "Computer use changed all that. Now many of these jobs can be done with the help of computers in relatively clean, pleasant working conditions.

One example is in the pulp, paperboard and converting industries. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in highly automated mills of today remain in an air-conditioned control room. They no longer have to walk alongside a paper machine in hot and wet conditions, or be exposed to a dark, moist and toxic environment in one of the older bleach plants.

While the BLS expects employment to drop overall in this industry, the number of women is expected to increase, in part because jobs which were once physically demanding will be made easier.

In fact, increasing computer use also benefits women who don't use computers on the job, according to Weinberg. As computerization improves working conditions at factories and production facilities, women are more likely to fill other jobs there that don't involve using a PC, simply because the conditions are more appealing.

While growing computer use most benefited women in high blue-collar jobs, Weinberg found women in low blue-collar jobs and white-collar jobs also benefited, but to a lesser extent.

Weinberg investigated other explanations for the data, including the possibility that it was actually the increase in women workers that led to jumps in computer use, and not the other way around. However, these alternative explanations don't fit the data, he said.

"The best estimate is that a little more than half of the increase in demand for women workers is the result of growing computer use," he said.
Contact: Bruce Weinberg, (614) 292-5642; Weinberg.27@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

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