Doom and gloom or sunny skies ahead?
I wanted to start off with a seemingly unrelated tangent – women in the workforce and how much they earn. I recently heard an episode of Freakonomics titled the The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap that, long story short, asserts that the pay gap is mostly due to differences in choices made by women to opt for careers and jobs that offer them more flexibility. For example, two identical laywers, one male and one female, may enter the field earning the same wage. As they progress, the woman is more likely to decide that she wants a position with more life flexibility – i.e. opportunities to work more on her schedule than the schedule dictated by the office. She may still be working the same number of hours as her male counterpart, but as a result she may be viewed as less career-oriented and have fewer opportunities to earn high paying promotions. The idea is that by making a choice to work a more flexible schedule, she fundamentally gives up the opportunity to earn more. Now, I don’t want to go into the cultural reasoning behind this, or discuss what it means in a broader sense about societal expectations on gender, yada, yada. The reason I bring it up is because I think it’s an interesting corollary to the question of the labor market. If we choose, as humans, to work more flexible jobs, whether they be manual labor, skilled labor, or even “off-shoreable” jobs like freelance designers and developers, etc, will we fall prey to a similar circumstance? Will the money go to those who continue to exist within the old model? Model’s change, sure, but how long will it take for the model to change drastically enough such that flexible work becomes not only accepted, but admired in the same way as traditional work is?
But if the market’s going that way, I suppose it won’t take too long for the shift to fully happen. The article mentions it’s already happening in jobs that require a physical presence, like plumbing, cleaning, etc, but that the opposite is true for jobs that can be done remotely. It brings up an interesting implication – will the high paying jobs of the future be manual labor? Will we have so many people going into jobs that can be done remotely (i.e. sitting at a computer), that it’ll be more rare to find a good plumber than a good lawyer or web designer? I’m not suggesting that being a good plumber is any less skilled than being a good web-designer, I’m just wondering if pay will tilt towards the physical as our world turns ever more digital.