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The polarisation of remote work

Author: Braesemann, F., Stephany, F., Teutloff, O., Kässi, O., Graham, M., & Lehdonvirta, V.
Published in:
Year: 2021
Type: Working paper
DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.3919655

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the rise of remote work with consequences for the global division of work. Remote work could connect labour markets, but it could also increase spatial polarisation. However, our understanding of the geographies of remote work is limited. Specifically, does remote work bring jobs to rural areas or is it concentrating in large cities, and how do skill requirements affect competition for jobs and wages? We use data from a fully remote labour market - an online labour platform - to show that remote work is polarised along three dimensions. First, countries are globally divided: North American, European, and South Asian remote workers attract most jobs, while many Global South countries participate only marginally. Secondly, remote jobs are pulled to urban regions; rural areas fall behind. Thirdly, remote work is polarised along the skill axis: workers with in-demand skills attract profitable jobs, while others face intense competition and obtain low wages. The findings suggest that remote work is shaped by agglomerative forces, which are deepening the gap between urban and rural areas. To make remote work an effective tool for rural development, it needs to be embedded in local skill-building and labour market programmes.

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Connected HIIG researchers

Fabian Braesemann, Dr.

Ehem. Gastforscher

Fabian Stephany, Dr.

Assoziierter Forscher: Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Gesellschaft


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