Robot Workers Manufacturing

Fear of job loss to automation may harm worker health: study

Photo: PJ66431470/iStockphoto

Muncie, IN – Worry over losing their jobs to automation may affect workers’ physical and mental health, according to a recent study from researchers at Ball State University and Villanova University.

The researchers used 2012 and 2014 data from the General Social Survey and county-level data from the 2017 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, 2015 American Community Survey, and 2014 Statistics of U.S. Businesses.

They found that workers in jobs with higher risk of automation reported less job security, which, in turn, was linked to poorer health. For instance, a 10 percent rise in the risk of automation at the county level resulted in percentage-point decreases of 2.38 in general health, 0.8 in physical health and 0.6 in mental health.

The researchers also estimate that the same 10 percentage-point increase in automation risk raises the costs of overall health-related productivity loss by $24 million to $174 million because of the increase in prevalence of poor or fair health, $6 million to $40 million because of increased physical distress, and $7 million to $47 million because of higher mental distress.

“The actual and felt threats from automation may not immediately manifest into morbidities, but the increasing prevalence of poorer self-reported health and feelings of deteriorating physical and mental health can have a direct and lasting impact on individuals, families and communities,” Michael Hicks, study co-author and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at BSU, said in a March 15 press release. “While we cannot fully unpack the black box between county-level automation risk and health, nevertheless, it is important for policymakers to understand the health effects of automation risk.”

The study was published online Feb. 24 in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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