Upstairs, Downstairs: Computer-Skill Complementarity and Computer-Labor Substitution on Two Floors of a Large Bank

26 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2000 Last revised: 29 Jan 2015

See all articles by David H. Autor

David H. Autor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Frank S. Levy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning

Richard J. Murnane

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 2000

Abstract

We describe how a single technological innovation, the introduction of image processing of checks, led to distinctly different changes in the structure of jobs in two departments of a large bank overseen by one group of managers. In the downstairs deposit processing department, image processing led to the substitution of computers for high school educated labor in accomplishing core tasks and in greater specialization in the jobs that remained. In the upstairs exceptions processing department, image processing led to the integration of tasks, with an associated increase in the demand for particular skills. The case illustrates the interdependence of technological change and organizational change. It suggests that seeing the whole picture' and associated conceptual and problem-solving skills are made more valuable by information technologies. Finally, it underscores that the short-term consequences of technological changes may depend importantly on regulatory forces.

Suggested Citation

Autor, David H. and Levy, Frank S. and Murnane, Richard J., Upstairs, Downstairs: Computer-Skill Complementarity and Computer-Labor Substitution on Two Floors of a Large Bank (September 2000). NBER Working Paper No. w7890. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=241380

David H. Autor (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Frank S. Levy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://dusp.mit.edu/faculty/frank-levy

Richard J. Murnane

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education ( email )

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617-496-4820 (Phone)
617-496-3095 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4820 (Phone)
617-496-3095 (Fax)

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