There is increasing evidence that labor markets in developed countries are polarizing or hollowing out. On the one hand, the share of employment in high-skilled, high-paying occupations (managers, professionals and technicians) and low-skilled, low-paying occupations (elementary, service, and sales workers) is growing. On the other hand, the share of employment in middle-skilled, middle-paying occupations (clerks, plant and machine operators) is being squeezed. There is ample evidence of polarization in the United States (see Acemoglu and Autor, 2011; Autor and Dorn, 2013; and Autor (2014) for a less technical discussion), and also in Western Europe (Goos, Manning, and Salomons, 2014). Harrigan, Reshef and Toubal (2016), more recently, document the same phenomenon in France, using firm-level data.
The rapid spread of digital technologies has been a development success. But has it also resulted in successful development? No, not when the basic foundations of economic development are missing, argues the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.
Increased prosperity and our incessant desire to stay connected have contributed to the rapid spread of digital technologies. More households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water. Nearly 70 percent of the bottom-fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone. The number of Internet users has more than tripled in the last decade—from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015.
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Pop quiz: Which of these statements do you agree with?
- If you build “IT” they will come.
- Poor people don’t need mobile phones. They need clean water and food instead.
- Digital skills are only relevant for people who work in the ICT sector. The rest of us don’t need them.
Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the Report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.
- Male, from Madurai, India, Age between 16-25, intermediate diploma holder
“ I am a full time independent freelancer and my 100% earning comes from online. So definitely internet is one of the most important things in my life”
- Male, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Age between 26-45, completed Bachelor and above
These quotes are just a glimpse at the power of digital technologies, coming from many amazing stories as people answered the following question online: “how has your life changed (personally or professionally) after you began to use the internet?” A key message from the responses is “Internet provides an opportunity to learn, earn, make friends, connect with family and friends, apply for jobs easily, and shop online.” As discussed in the upcoming World Development Report 2016 “Digital Dividends,” the internet, and other digital technologies, are changing the way people work, entertain, interact, and find jobs across high, middle and low-income countries.
On September 19, 2014, a Kenyan middle-aged woman was waiting for a bus at a stop in Nairobi. When the bus stopped, a group of men surrounded her, and started to strip and assault her for wearing a miniskirt in public. She screamed and cried out for help, but only a couple of brave people reached out and gave her clothes to cover herself.
This kind of sexual violence against women is not unprecedented in Kenya, but this time was different. The brutality of the violence was caught on camera and went viral online. On November 2014 alone, at least four such attacks were recorded across Kenya. The numbers for violence against women are disturbing: according to the Gallup World Poll conducted in 2010 in Kenya, 48.2 percent of women feared that a household member could be sexually harassed.