Monday, January 28, 2013

Big Data Reveals Job Change

Sometimes a social science research project is so big, so original, and so definitive that you know it's destined to become a classic in the field. Such is the case with Task Specialization in U.S. Cities from 1880-2000. In this study, economists Guy Michaels, Ferdinand Rauch, and Stephen J. Redding analyze the verbs (yes, verbs) used to describe jobs in the U.S. Dictionary of Occupational Titles during a 120 year time period (yes, 120 years). They do this by geographic area, correlating their findings with the spread of telephone service and transportation networks. They discover "a systematic reallocation of employment over time towards interactive occupations, which involve tasks described by verbs that appear in thesaurus categories concerned with thought, communication and inter-social activity."

Their research reveals that the increased interactiveness of employment is significantly greater in cities than in rural areas. The growing interactiveness of jobs, they suggest, is the engine of agglomeration (urban growth). Here is the number-one verb used to describe the jobs that were most highly concentrated in urban areas by selected year...

1880: thread
1900: thread
1920: file
1940: file
1960: document
1980: identify
2000: develop

There's so much more in this study--too much to report in a few short paragraphs. And hopefully, there will be much more to come, such as updates of this research to capture the unfolding Internet Age.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Task Specialization in U.S. Cities from 1880-2000, NBER Working Paper 18715 ($5)

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