Surveying the ‘post-industrial’ landscape: information technologies and labour market polarization in Canada

A key issue in recent debates over the impact of new technologies on work is the polarization of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jobs within the ‘post-industrial’ economy. Two dimensions skill andearnings have been of central concern. Contrary to earlier predictions of more homogenous patterns of either work upgrading or degrading, evidence of polarization reveals far more complex changes as new technologies become embedded within workplaces, industries and national economies. The issue of skill has received more attention than earnings in debates over technological change, yet there is little firm evidence as to what role, if any, evolving patterns of technology use play in processes of polarization. In this paper, we undertake such analysis, using Canada as a case study. Drawing on data from the 1994 General Social Survey, we examine the distribution of computer use, identify ‘high use’ and ‘low use’ workers and occupational clusters, then analyze the impact of computer use on job skills and earnings between and within these clusters. Our findings do not support a technology-based explanation of polarization within the labour market as a whole. In general terms, a combination of worker characteristics and occupational conditions are far more important in this respect, although there is some evidence of computer-related skill differences within similar groupings of occupations.
Published in: Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 37, 1 (2000): 29-53.