By Jonathan Davies
Technology: Is it good or bad for jobs? It is a debate that a raged for decades, centuries even.
The pro-tech team say it eases our workload, while the anti-tech side say they're taking our jobs. Supermarket workers cast an evil eye towards the self-checkout area and taxi drivers grow evermore concerned over the future of driverless cars.
But economists at Deloitte have toiled over more than 140 years of census data for England and Wales to give an answer to the question, once and for all. It has determined that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed.
In fact, is described technology as a "great job-creating machine". The study, which has been shortlisted for the Society of Business Economists' Rybczynski prize, claims that the negative effects of technology on jobs are more prominent because they are more easily observed.
The report's authors, Ian Stewart, Debapratim De and Alex Cole, said: “The dominant trend is of contracting employment in agriculture and manufacturing being more than offset by rapid growth in the caring, creative, technology and business services sectors.
“Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years.”
Where has technology destroyed jobs?
It isn't all good, however. The research does concede that, in some industries, technology has clearly had a negative impact on jobs. In 1871, the England and Wales census shows 6.6% of the workforce were 'agricultural labourers', but in the latest census that figure dropped to 0.2%.
Some jobs have been almost completely eradicated by technology. In 1901, 200,000 of the 32.5 million population worked in washing clothes. In 2011, that figure fell to 35,000 of a 56.1 million population.
“A collision of technologies, indoor plumbing, electricity and the affordable automatic washing machine have all but put paid to large laundries and the drudgery of hand-washing,” says the report.
Where has technology created jobs?
Deloitte's research found that technology has had a direct positive impact on productivity and employment in specialist industries. Medicine, education and professional services like accounting have all been boosted by technology.
In 1871, there were less than 10,000 accountants in England and Wales. But now, that figure stands at a huge 215,678.
“Easy access to information and the accelerating pace of communication have revolutionised most knowledge-based industries,” says the study.
Technology has also had an indirect, but positive, impact on leisure industries. Because tech has reduced the price of things like food and drink, and home electrical prices, people have had more money to spend elsewhere.
For instance, the number of bar staff has risen fourfold over the past 50 years. And in 1871, there was a hairdresser for every 1,793 people in England and Wales. Now there is one for every 287 people.
So there you have it. The debate is over. According to Deloitte, technology is good for jobs.