Transformational effects of COVID-19 on inequalities at work: An international analysis of job polarisation, occupational segregation and emerging policy responses


The central objective of this research project is to develop an international comparative analysis and provide a robust evidence base for long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on inequalities at work. Preparatory work contributing to this project is currently underway.

History is replete with examples of global shocks leading to paradigm shifts in human societies (Scheidel, 2017). Global pandemics (most notably the Black Death) and, more recently, the two World Wars have dramatically changed the world of work resulting in the establishment of salaried employment, occupational diversity and women's participation in the labour market (Reskin, 1993).

Early signs indicate the new COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching consequences for work and employment, well beyond an immediate economic impact (Adams-Prassl et al., 2020). From its onset, the pandemic has escalated the ongoing technological change in workplaces. Employers around the world have rapidly adopted flexible working arrangements (e.g. remote working) which are likely to stay for the foreseeable future (Brynjolfsson et al., 2020). With these transformations came behavioural, organisational and policy changes that have disproportionate effects on workers and occupations, providing better working conditions and wellbeing for some workers while disenfranchising others (Adams-Prassl et al., 2020). The long-term consequences of such dynamics remain to be seen.

Given initial unequal impacts of the pandemic on jobs and workers, there is a pressing need to understand its long-term consequences for existing labour market inequalities including job polarisation seen as a shrinking share of routine occupations (Oesch and Piccitto, 2020; Nippani, 2020), occupational segregation and discrepancies in career outcomes by gender, ethnicity and social class (Milliken et al., 2020; Munir, 2020). As the deepest inequalities take place between countries, the project will take a cross-country, comparative perspective to examine not only the direct implications of the pandemic for inequalities at work but also how different countries respond to such challenges.