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Two nations

Two nations

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There's one aspect of yesterday's labour market data that hasn't had the attention it deserves - namely, the big long-run change in the occuaptional structure of the labour market.

The figures show that in the last 10 years, the number of "managers and senior officials" has grown by 18.7%, whilst total employment rose just 3.6%. Bosses now represent 16.1% of all jobs, compared to less than 13% when current records began in 2001.This trend doesn't seem to be slowing much: the number of bosses rose by 2.7% in the last 12 months, compared to a rise of 1.2% in overall employment. 

The counterpart to this growth in the number of bosses has been a sharp drop in the number of workers in "administrative and secretarial" and "skilled trades" occupations; these have fallen by 14.8% and 13.7% respectively in the last 10 years. Employment in the least skilled occupations has also fallen, but less so, whilst the numbers of professional workers have risen. What we're seeing - in the US (pdf) as well as UK - is a form of job polarization

Now, it could be that this is a statistical artefact caused by a reclassification of some administrative staff - for example, when a secretary becomes an office manager. Consistent with this is the fact that the pay of managers (all of them together, not just CEOs) has lagged behind that of workers generally, rising by 27.7% in the last 10 years against 31.4% for all workers. But I'm not sure this is the whole story.

I have two observations and a question here.

First, the growth in the number of bosses has coincided with a slowdown in productivity growth. This is consistent with my prior that the managerialist ideology which demands ever more management is bad for efficiency. (It is, however, not proof; perhaps the productivity slowdown would have been even worse had it not been for the growing number of bosses - though I haven't seen anyone arguing this.)

Second, this occupational shift might be a justification for young people to go to university; a degree gives you a chance of entering one of the growing managerial and professional occupations, and of avoiding the shrinking ones.

My question is: what social and political effects might this long-run change have?

What I mean is that relations between a boss and his secretary or a skilled worker is often different from that between a boss and an unskilled worker. The latter is likely to be peremptory and dishonest on both sides, whereas the former is more likely to be candid and productive. What's more, whereas managers and skilled or administrative workers might meet socially, managers and less skilled workers are less likely to do so.

It's possible, then, that the disappearance of the "middling sorts" is generating a "two nations" society. On the one hand we have managers and professionals and on the other less skilled workers, and between them:

"there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws."

* Data are table EMP09 here.


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