Math skills aren’t what they used to be. Back in November 2012 I wrote about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who wanted to hire English majors. Earlier this month, David J. Deming of the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a paper citing the growing importance of—if not English skills—at least social skills in the evolving labor market.
“In this paper, I show that the labor market increasingly rewards social skills,” Deming wrote. “Since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution. Moreover, employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill.”
Further, he wrote, “The female advantage in social skills may have played some role in the narrowing of gender gaps in labor market outcomes since 1980.”
Andrew Flowers at FiveThirtyEight quotes Deming as saying, “The days of only plugging away at a spreadsheet are over.” But don’t tear up your STEM degree. The key word in the Deming quote is “only.” According to Flowers, Deming has argued that cognitive skills are necessary but not sufficient for having a high-paying job.
Flowers cites MIT economics professor David Autor’s research in support of this contention, quoting Autor as saying, “If anything, growth in high-wage, technical occupations slowed in the 2000s.” But while jobs requiring only technical skills have stagnated, the shift has been toward jobs—doctors, lawyers, and management consultants, for example—that require cognitive as well as social skills.
Deming’s research suggests that women in particular have been taking advantage of increasing requirements in social skills. In 1980, women took jobs (such as cook) whose social skills requirements ranked in the 47th percentile. By 2012, that figure had risen to the 66th percentile. In contrast, the figure changed little for men over the same period.
Adds Flowers, “Although cognitive skills don’t vary by gender, Deming cites research from psychology showing that women consistently score higher on tests of emotional intelligence and social perceptiveness.”