CSO assessment of Occupations with Potential Exposure to COVID-19

Guest post by Reamonn Lydon (Central Bank).

[Disclaimer: this blog post represents my personal views and not those of the Central Bank of Ireland or the European System of Central Banks]

The CSO has just released an experimental analysis of Occupations with Potential Exposure to COVID-19. This is useful data for anyone who wants to understand how the Covid-19 shock interacts with the structure and composition of employment.  It provides important information on which sorts of occupations and workers have been most directly affected by the restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.

Using O*NET data on the task-related content of four-digit occupations, the CSO construct an Proximity index and an Exposure to diseases index.  Here, I focus on the proximity index, although a similar analysis of the Exposure index would also be of interest.

Quoting from the background notes:

In the O*NET data “Respondents score their job on a scale of one to five where, for proximity, one indicates that the respondent does not work near other people (beyond 100 feet) while five indicates that they are very close to others (near touching) … The data is harmonised on a scale ranging from 0 to 100 by using the following equation: S = ((O-L)/(H-L)) * 100 where S is the standardised score, O the original rating score between one and five, L the lowest possible score (one) and H the highest possible score (five). Under this new classification, the standardised physical proximity measure is defined by:

0 –     I do not work near other people (beyond 100 ft.)

25 –   I work with others but not closely (for example, private office)

50 –   Slightly close (for example, shared office)

75 –   Moderately close (at arm’s length)

100 – Very close (near touching)”

The CSO has constructed a proximity score for 296 four-digit SOC10 occupations. Crucially, it then maps these to total employment, percentage female, over-55 and non-Irish using Census 2016.

Using employment weights, the median proximity score for all workers is 57.6; the mean is 61.8. The four digit occupation at the median is Sales related occupations not elsewhere classified. The lowest scoring occupation (least proximate) is Artists (21.5); the highest scoring is Paramedics (97).

The chart below shows the cumulative share of employment (y-axis) by proximity score (x-axis) for the characteristics provided by the CSO. The variation across charactistics is striking: female workers are more likely to be in ‘lower proximity jobs’, almost 60 per cent are below the median score for all workers. It is hard to pin-point a single occupation that contributes to this result for females, but a relatively higher concentration in occupations like Chartered and certified accountants, Cleaners and domestics and Administrative Occupations do stand out.  By contrast, male, younger and non-Irish workers are all more likely to be in high-proximity jobs, with just 40 per cent below the median.  The relatively higher share of younger workers on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) – 41 per cent of under-25s are on PUP currently, compared with 21 per cent of over-25s – tallies with the observation that more of these workers tend to be in higher proximity occupations, and therefore more impacted by the Covid-related restrictions.

Chart 1: Cumulative share of employment by proximity score.
Source: Own calculations using CSO 2020.

For those groups with a greater concentration in high-proximity jobs – that is, male, younger and non-Irish – there is a step-jump around 70. In terms of the occupations arround this jump, for males it includes sports and leisure activities, skilled trades, constrction and protective services. For non-Irish nationals, who make up around 15% of employment (in the 2016 data, it is closer to 20% now) it is a broadly similar set of jobs, but also including a range of food services occupations.  

Finally, the CSO has also published the median annual earnings by occupation. Chart 2 shows the average of median annual earnings by occupation for each quartile of the proximty score distribution (weighted by employment). Higher proximity occupations tend to lower paid.  For example, in the top 25 per cent of jobs by proximity score (which also happens to be a score at 75 or above), the average of earnings per occupation is around €33,500 (in 2016). The average for the bottom 25 per cent occupations (a proximity score of around 49) is €42,300.  When we control for all characteristics such as female, share of over-55s and non-Irish by population, we find that going from the least proximate quartile score (49) to the most proximate quartile score (75) is associated with earnings being around 20 per cent lower on average.

Chart 2: Earnings by proximity score
Source: Own calculations using CSO 2020.


Information on the task-related content of occupation is vital for understanding which sort of jobs are affected by the social distancing restrictions put in place to fight the Covid pandemic.  Similar work in Adrjan and Lydon (2020) shows how countries with a higher concentration of ‘high-proximty’ employment experienced a larger negative shock to labour demand when the crisis first hit. This includes Ireland. Analysing the occupational breakdown from the CSO highlights that younger, male and non-Irish workers are more concentrated in ‘high proximity roles’. These roles are also lower paid on average. This provides crucial insight into who is most affected by the Covid shock, and what sort of policies might be put in place to help certain groups of workers.