Women are 1.5 times more likely than men to lose their jobs to AI

A new report projects whose jobs AI will displace by the end of the decade—and exposes its deep inequities.
Women are 1.5 times more likely than men to lose their jobs to AI
Photo: Maxim Shemetov (Reuters)
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The revolution may not be televised, but it will be automated. And according to a new report, it’s not coming for everyone’s jobs equally: Women are more likely to lose their jobs to AI than men.

The report, released this week by the McKinsey Global Institute, projects that nearly a third of hours worked in the US could be automated by the end of the decade. Thanks to automation and AI, 12 million people will need to change jobs—and women will be 1.5 times more likely to have to find new roles.

That’s because women make up more of the workforce in lower-paying industries, like office work and customer service, which the report projects will shrink more significantly thanks to automation and AI. People in lower-wage jobs, it adds, could be up to 14 times more likely to need to shift occupations than those that pay the highest.

Among those also at risk of having to find new jobs: Black and Hispanic workers, who are “highly concentrated” in some of those shrinking jobs, along with workers without college degrees. And most importantly, those workers will probably need to pick up new skills or training before they can shift into new industries.

People are switching jobs at surging rates

From 2019-2022, the US labor market saw tremendous spikes in job shifts (or when a person moves from one occupation to another). The report counts some 8.6 million career changes counted—a 50% increase from the last three-year period, according to McKinsey. Half of those 8.6 million job changes, it adds, were in lower-wage industries, including food services, customer service, office support, and production.

“Demand for lower-wage service work remains, but fewer workers are accepting these roles,” the report states. More high-wage jobs were added—about 3.5 million jobs that pay $57,000 or more annually—but it’s not clear if lower-paid employees were able to move up into high-paying roles, or if these jobs were filled by workers new to the market.

Who reaps the gains of AI? White-collar workers, of course

Meanwhile, while the projections see AI and automation shrinking some industries, McKinsey also suggests it could speed up the growth of others—especially for knowledge workers. “We see generative AI enhancing the way STEM, creative, and business and legal professionals work rather than eliminating a significant number of jobs outright,” it writes.

Compare that to another report issued this week, this time by the Pew Research Center, which finds that white-collar workers are optimistic about how AI will help them. About a fifth of all US workers have a high exposure—or, in other terms, have work that can be performed by technology—to artificial intelligence. Those in jobs most exposed to AI, usually high-paying ones, are likely to say the technology will help more than hurt them.

AI can augment work, adopters argue, rather than replace it, so teams might spend more time on creative, strategic, or collaborative thinking. We’ve also seen the blunders of AI when it’s used in place of people, from lawyers submitting made-up cases to media outlets publishing error-riddled articles. Artificial intelligence isn’t equipped to be your lawyer, doctor, or architect—at least for now.

So how can we make sure lower-paid workers aren’t left behind?

A pressing question, then, is how we might extend some of those benefits to the people whose jobs are projected to go the way of automation. McKinsey sees some optimism—and urgency. “Spiking demand and labor scarcity forced many employers to consider nontraditional candidates with potential and train them if they lacked direct experience,” the report says.

But ultimately, employers and the country at large will need to lean into that equitable outlook—and offer more training, more development, and more pathways for employees to land high-earning positions. Only with that will we find our way to a future where all workers can enjoy the advantages of AI—not be eliminated by it.