The changing nature of work

Produced by: 
The World Bank
Available from: 
April 2018
Paper author(s): 
World Development Report 2019

Concerns over technology-led disruption are far from new. Karl Marx worried that “machinery does not just act as a superior competitor to the worker, always on the point of making him superfluous. It is the most powerful weapon for suppressing strikes.” Economist John Maynard Keynes warned in 1931 of widespread unemployment due to technology. The balance of evidence in this study does not suggest the world is today, any more than it was in 1867 or 1931, on the cusp on an era of widespread, technology-induced unemployment. A more informed view predicts that some jobs will be lost due to automation. The adjustment to this loss will be especially challenging because many of the new jobs will require significantly higher levels of human capital. In the absence of countervailing policies, some workers are likely to be pushed into lower-wage jobs or temporary spells of unemployment. The changing nature of work disrupts markets. Automation shortens global value chains, obviating jobs in the process. At the same time, improved digital infrastructure extend the market for services—creating the gig economy. Reshoring (due to automation) along with the renegotiation of multilateral trade agreements create concerns about rising anti-globalization sentiment. However, emerging new leaders such as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China) push integration forward. Meanwhile, other trends such as demographic change, rapid urbanization and climate change, affect the composition as well as the location of jobs. In a March 2017 survey conducted by Eurobarometer, 74 percent of the respondents envisioned technology beneficial to jobs, 64 percent thought technology would improve society, while 67 percent of Europeans thought the quality of life would rise. Individuals, firms, governments and society can prepare for the adjustments ahead.


Research section: 
Latest Research
Share this