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More women than men could lose their jobs to automation

A new report from the World Economic Forum says that could widen gender inequality, but job training could help solve the problem.

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By 2026, 1.4 million jobs nationwide will be either be automated or disrupted by automation.

Westend61/Getty

Women may stand to lose the majority of jobs to automation, according to a report Monday from the World Economic Forum.

The report, titled "Toward a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All," looks at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projection that says by 2026, 1.4 million jobs nationwide will be either be automated or disrupted by automation in some manner. Of those 1.4 million jobs, 57 percent will belong to women — something the report says could widen gender inequality.

Part of the reason for this is because many jobs still lean heavily toward one gender or another. As an example, the report references how secretarial and administrative assistant roles are largely filled by women. As automation takes over duties like administrative tasks, some 164,000 women's jobs could be at risk.

Automation is the source of much hand wringing when discussing the future of work. An oft-cited 2013 study from Oxford University found 47 percent of US jobs could be at risk to automation. Just this week, Amazon unveiled its Amazon Go store, a retail space without cashiers (though there are still some humans on hand to do tasks like check IDs.)

While some theorize automation could free up humans to pursue higher-level tasks or even just leisure, this new study sees potential for growing inequality, particularly for groups like women who already face economic disadvantages.

All may not be lost, but a person's ability to survive the automation shakeup depends greatly on whether she can acquire new skills.

"The individuals who will succeed in the economy of the future will be those who can complement the work done by mechanical or algorithmic technologies, and 'work with the machines,'" the report said.

Without "reskilling," women generally have about 12 job options they could transition to compared to 22 for men. Those numbers go up to 49 and 80 when education enters the mix. For women, 95 percent of those at the highest risk of losing their jobs in automation could find new jobs if they pursue education and retraining.

The report also identified a side effect relating to wages. For those women who transition into new jobs, the report says 74 percent could see higher wages, compared with 53 percent of men. That could actually partially shore up the wage gap between men and women.

Still, making the move from one obsolete job to a more stable one is a challenge that, the report said, should be plotted out well in advance, with individuals, employers and governments.

"The path to a good life appears increasingly difficult to identify and attain for a growing number of people across our global community," the report said.