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Choosing Our Future: A Story of Opportunity in America

Trends in Routine and Non-Routine Tasks in Occupations, United States, 1960 to 2009

Source: David H. Autor and Brendan Price, 2013, "The Changing Task Composition of the US Labor Market: An Update of Autor, Levy, and Murnane (2003)," MIT Mimeograph, June 2013,



The types of tasks required across different occupations have changed considerably over the past several decades, reflecting advances in technology and growing globalization.

  • Overall, the prevalence of routine manual tasks – the kinds that are typical of assembly line work – have declined relative to their 1960 levels.
  • There has been even more of a decline in the prevalence of routine cognitive tasks such as book keeping and data entry. Although the prevalence of both routine manual and routine cognitive tasks rose somewhat between 1960 and 1970, they have fallen quite steadily since then.
  • In contrast, the prevalence of most non-routine tasks, which typically include problem solving and communication, has increased. Both non-routine analytic and interpersonal tasks, such as those associated with engineering and science, as well as with managerial work, rose steadily until about 2000 and then leveled off somewhat.
  • Non-routine manual tasks, which do not require higher education but do involve the ability to adapt and respond to unscripted situations, did not show similar increases. In fact, these types of tasks, which are typical in service and labor occupations, decreased from 1960 to 1990 before leveling off.