Working from Home Is for the Most Skilled
ECONOMICS | COVID CRISIS |

Working from Home Is for the Most Skilled

A STUDY BY THOMAS LE BARBANCHON FOUND THAT INFORMATION, FINANCIAL ACTIVITIES, AND PROFESSIONAL AND BUSINESS SERVICES, ALONG WITH AGRICULTURE, ARE THE INDUSTRIES WITH THE MOST HOURS WORKED AT HOME

One of the most surprising things about the COVID-19 pandemic was how millions of people successfully adapted to working at home literally from one day to the next. Since the economic consequences of any lockdown are likely to depend on how easily workers can perform their jobs away from their workplace, gaining a clear picture of which jobs are affected is important for policymakers.
 
“It was very important to understand which jobs could be done at home across occupations and industries, and when we started working on the paper two months ago there was no information about COVID-19 in different economic sectors,” says Thomas Le Barbanchon, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Bocconi. In a discussion paper  with Lena Hensvik from Uppsala University and Roland Rathelot of University of Warwick, Professor le Barbanchon used a data-driven approach to rate occupations and industries by their propensity to substitute home-working for workplace work between 2011 and 2018.
 
The paper found that except for agriculture, the broad industries with the most hours worked at home are information, financial activities, and professional and business services. The industries with the least home-working hours are transportation and utilities, and leisure and hospitality. Workers in high-skilled occupations, such as management, business, financial, and professional occupations, work more hours at home than workers in less skilled occupations, except farmers. Furthermore, the share of hours worked at home is also larger in higher-skilled occupations. “This means there is a bigger impact on low-income workers,” says Prof. Le Barbanchon.
 
The paper provided a useful basis for classification of “home working” jobs in a second study, “Job Search During the Covid 19 crisis”, by the same trio analyzing activity on the largest online job board in Sweden. This showed a surprisingly large drop in job search during the health emergency, to the extent that it could become difficult for employers to recruit, and that people redirected their searches towards the high homeworking areas of the economy – even if it was in a sector they had not previously considered.
 
“We see that at this turbulent time people will consider employment opportunities they usually don’t,” he says.  “This was the most surprising finding.”
 
Lena Hensvik, Thomas Le Barbanchon, Roland Rathelot, “Which Jobs Are Done from Home? Evidence from the American Time Use Survey”, IZA DP No 13138.

by Jennifer Clark

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