Robots are going to turbo charge one of society’s biggest problems

screenshot from ex machina trailer
screenshot from ex machina trailer
Image: Universal Pictures
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The greater adoption of robots in the workplace is heralded as a way to usher greater business efficiency, productivity, and better paid jobs, which in turn will boost the economy. However, the more jobs are automated, the more the gender wage gap will be exacerbated, warns a think tank.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) laid out in a new report (pdf) the positive and negative effects of adding robots to the workplace. On the plus side, it estimates that robots could raise UK productivity growth by 0.8% to 1.4% each year and therefore help boost GDP by 10% by 2030. It also predicts that there is £290 billion ($390 billion) worth of wages associated with jobs that have the “technical potential” to become automated. “If automation leads to lower average wages or working hours, or loss of jobs in aggregate, a significant amount of national income could be transferred from labour to capital,” says the report.

On the flip side, it warned that automation will widen the pay gaps for women and minorities since robots are likely to phase out lower-skilled jobs over the next few decades, and the jobs created in their place will be more highly skilled. Low-wage jobs are five times more likely to be automated than higher paid jobs, according to the report.

“Automation risks increasing gender and race inequality,” says IPPR, noting that women and some minority groups are more likely to work in low-skill, “automatable” occupations. “The impact on inequality will depend on the skill-level of new jobs created and individuals’ ability to access opportunities.”

So while it can be argued that robots aren’t killing jobs, they do make it more difficult for less-skilled workers to hold on to or take on newly created jobs that command better pay.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum warned that it would take 217 years to close the global economic gender gap.

The gap isn’t just a reflection of women getting paid less for doing the same jobs as men—across the OECD, the salary gap is just 2% (paywall). One of the major factors contributing to the pay gap is that women are more likely than men to do unpaid work or be out of the workforce, more likely to work in industries with lower average pay, and less likely to be in high-paid senior positions.

And these are exactly the prime spots where the greater adoption of automation will put more pressure on and exacerbate the huge problem of workplace and pay inequality.