Robots & Bad Health

People who fear robots could take their jobs have worse physical and mental health.

IN REGIONS WHERE there’s a high chance that robots or computers could render human workers obsolete, fears about job security are impacting physical and mental health. That’s according to new research conducted by Pankaj Patel, the Ryan Endowed Chair in Strategy and Innovation at Villanova University in Pennsylvania; Srikant Devaraj, a research assistant professor at the Center for Business and Economics Research (CBER) at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana; Michael Hicks, CBER director; and Emily Wornell, a research assistant professor with Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute.

“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,” says Hicks. In 2015, he found that, in the manufacturing sector of the U.S., job losses due to automation were as high as 88 percent in recent years.

The researchers found that a 10 percent increase in automation risk at the county level worsens general, physical, and mental health by 2.38 percentage points, 0.8 percentage point, and 0.6 percentage point, respectively.

The study also found that Southern U.S. states appear to have a higher percentage of people with worse health from exposure to automation risk, whereas those in the Plains, Midwest, and New England have better health outcomes. These patterns are consistent with national health patterns and indicate that states that historically suffer poorer health might be at greater risk as automation takes hold.

“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 says.

“County-level job automation risk and health: Evidence from the United States” appears in the April 2018 issue of Social Science and Medicine.