Upstairs, Downstairs: Computers and Skills on Two Floors of a Large Bank

Posted: 30 Oct 2001

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)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 2001

Abstract

Many studies document a positive correlation between workplace computerization and employment of skilled labor in production. Why does this correlation arise? The authors posit that improvements in computer-based technology create incentives to substitute machinery for people in performing tasks that can be fully described by procedural or "rules-based" logic and hence performed by a computer. This process typically leaves many tasks unaltered, and management plays a key role - at least in the short run - in determining how these tasks are organized into jobs, with significant implications for skill demands. This conceptual framework proves useful in interpreting how jobs were affected by the introduction of digital check imaging in two departments of a large bank. In one department, the tasks not computerized were subdivided into narrow jobs; in the other department, management combined multiple linked tasks to create jobs of greater complexity. The framework may be applicable to many organizations.

JEL Classification: J3, O3

Suggested Citation

Autor, David H. and Levy, Frank S. and Murnane, Richard J., Upstairs, Downstairs: Computers and Skills on Two Floors of a Large Bank (August 2001). Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, April 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=289001

David H. Autor (Contact Author)

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

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Frank S. Levy

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

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Richard J. Murnane

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education ( email )

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