Study: Robots scare workers, make them sick

March 21, 2018
Researchers from Ball State University and a Villanova University professor have published a study that says the fear of automation could be affecting workers’ physical and mental health

Researchers from Ball State University and a Villanova University professor have published a study that says the fear of automation—that a robot or computer could put workers in the unemployment line—could be affecting workers’ physical and mental health.

The research, published in “County-level job automation risk and health: Evidence from the United States," found that exposure to automation risk may be negatively associated with health outcomes, plausibly through perceptions of poorer job security. The research was conducted by Srikant Devaraj, a research assistant professor with Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER); Michael Hicks, CBER director; Emily J. Wornell, a research assistant professor with Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute and Pankaj C. Patel with Villanova University.

According to Hicks, most people agree that the risk of automation is significant. In 2015 Hicks says that job losses in the nation’s manufacturing sectors due to automation were as high as 88 percent. “People who live and work in areas where automation is taking place are sickened by the thought of losing their jobs and having no way of providing for themselves or their families,” Hicks said.

In this recent study, researchers found that a 10 percent increase in automation risk at the county-level worsens general, physical and mental health by 2.38 percent, 0.8 percent and 0.6 percent. The study estimates that the 10-percentage point increase in automation risk increases overall costs by $24 million to $174 million due to increase in prevalence of poor or fair health, $6 million to $40 million due to increased physical distress and $7 to $47 million due to increased 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,” Hicks said. “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.”

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