Unstructured Data Facility Earns a Premium in the Labor Market

December 7, 2019

According to O*Net (https://www.onetonline.org/), there are 86 occupations, including economists and video game designers, that interface with some sort of database management software, such as MySQL and Apache Hadoop. These 86 occupations combine for a total of 25.9 million employed persons in 2018 and 2.04 trillion dollars in annual wages. O*Net lists 76 examples of database management software. (See notes for a list of all occupations and a matrix of which occupations use which software.)

This post addresses: What is the premium for working with unstructured data? This post also tries to say something about the need for technological advances in software and related services that help employers manage and process unstructured data. As I will show, the need for data management is on the rise in the labor market.

O*Net categorizes how structured or unstructured is an occupation’s work context. The idea is that the more unstructured a work environment, the more likely an employee will work with unstructured sources of information and use database management software to facilitate unstructured work. I show that the ability to work with unstructured information earns a premium in the labor market–especially as it is difficult to automate unstructured work and difficult to automate in unstructured work environments.

First, the need for document management specialists, and therefore technical solutions, is on the rise. According to O*Net, a document management specialist is one who: “Implement[s] and administer[s] enterprise-wide document management systems and related procedures that allow organizations to capture, store, retrieve, share, and destroy electronic records and documents.” Chart 1, below, shows that between 2012 and 2018, employment of document management specialists grew by 100% and annual median wages increased by 11%. (One caveat is that the wage and employment information for document management specialists presented here is for the larger category of workers under “Computer Occupations, All Other,” which also includes occupations such as database architects and data warehousing specialists.)

I also want to highlight the growth of clinical data managers, who oversee massive volumes of data generated per employee (or, per researcher) and have a need to manage fragmented data across different primary storage systems. Chart 2, below, shows that employment for clinical data managers grew by 56% between 2012 and 2018. It also shows that median annual wages grew by 23%. Both Chart 1 and Chart 2 highlight the growing need for data management work and technical solutions.

Next, I turn to the core issue of working in an unstructured environment, which I interpret to mean working with unstructured sources of information and using data management software to facilitate unstructured data work. Figure 1, below, shows that the average annual wage for those who specified they worked in a highly structured environment was $53,247. In contrast, those who worked in highly unstructured environments earned an average of $93,295. Those who said they worked in a somewhat structured environment, which covers the majority of occupations, earned an annual wage of $80,277.

Figure 1.  Average 2018 Wages for 86 Occupations who Work with Database Management Software by Amount of Structure in Work Context
Highly StructuredSomewhat StructuredHighly Unstructured
Average Wages $           53,246.67  $                       80,276.94  $                 93,294.84

The question is: Do occupations with highly unstructured work environments reward their employees with a wage premium? I run a t-test to see if the difference in means between highly unstructured occupations and somewhat structured occupations is statistically significant–meaning the difference is unlikely to be due to chance. Figure 2, below, shows that the difference in means, $13,018, is statistically significant. Therefore, those who work with unstructured information earn a premium over those who work with more structure.

Figure 2.  Difference in Means for Occupations with a Highly Unstructured Work Context and Somewhat Structured Work Context
Somewhat Structured MeanHighly Unstructured MeanDifference in MeansT-StatisticSignificant?
Annual Wages $           80,276.94  $                          93,294.84  $               13,017.90 2.0857Yes

This post tries to tackle two issues: 1) Is data management on the rise? and 2) Does working with unstructured information earn a premium? Yes, data management occupations have seen great growth–as much as 100% employment growth in document management specialists between 2012 and 2018. Also, those who work with unstructured information and use data management software to facilitate unstructured data work earn a statistically significant premium over those who work with more structure.


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