Industrial Revolution 4.0, which is marked by the use of robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, and digitization in the economy and everyday life, has brought massive benefits, including greater efficiency and productivity. However, its potential for destroying jobs is also prompting genuine concerns. This challenge is facing citizens the world over, but Latin Americans are particularly affected by it because they live in a region where a substantial share of exports are concentrated in activities that run a particularly high risk of being automated. Latin America also remains the most unequal region in the world.
The situation is even tougher for women, due to the persistence of gender inequality in the world of work in Latin America. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2015, 52.2% of women in Latin America were active in the labor market, but 79.7% of men were. The unemployment rate among Latin American women is 8.5% but is only 5.7% among men. The gender income gap is also significant: women in Latin America earn only 83% of what their male counterparts do. They also spend more hours per day on unpaid work.
In other words, Latin American women play a smaller role in the labor force, have higher unemployment rates, and spend more hours per day on unpaid work, which means that they face greater job instability, have less social security coverage, and receive lower pay.
Fortunately, Latin American society is increasingly aware of this. According to the INTAL/Latinobarómetro alliance, 66% of the region’s citizens acknowledge current tensions between men and women to be “strong” or “very strong.” Awareness of these conflicts grew by 10 percentage points (from 46% to 56%) between 2010 and 2017.
With regard to the digital divide, a recent study that we carried out at the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL/IDB) a unit of the Integration and Trade Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank on Argentina’s millennial population found that women from a representative sample of all young people in the country used technology at work less than men do: only 24% say they use technology there “a lot” or “all the time,” while 30% of men do. The study also found that men always state that they have more technology-related skills than women do. For example, while 82% of the male respondents said they had computing skills, only 72% of women claimed this.
With regard to the degree program they are taking or would like to take, we found that a greater percentage of young men are doing or would like to do degrees that relate to computing, IT systems, or engineering. This gap is particularly wide: while 14% of men opt for these programs, only 0.2% of women do.
The gender gap also affects ownership of technology
Almost 65% of men have a laptop computer while only 58% of women do. Likewise, INTAL/Latinobarómetro found that 47% of men in Latin America own a smartphone while 41% of women do.
These findings point to the conclusion that in this new technological era, women are suffering the effects of digital inequality in addition to those of the historical gender gap in the labor market. Women use less technology at work, have less technological skills, and do degrees that are less associated with these disciplines.
Unfortunately, the digital inequality that we observed in Argentina and the rest of Latin America may contribute to widening the gender gap even more. Industrial revolution 4.0 is ripe with potential but may lead to greater gender inequality. As women are also up against many other deep-rooted forms of inequality, they stand to benefit the most from preparing for this new technological era by developing digital skills that will help them to reduce inequality at work and close the gender divide.
The W-20 is an ideal setting in which to address these challenges. It has strengthened our resolve and represents a channel of hope in this vast sea of inequality that will sadly continue to grow if we do not take immediate action in the face of the huge challenge that is industrial revolution 4.0.