New Research on the Effects of Robots on Workers

New research on the effects of robots on workers in China paints a different picture of the possible coming robot takeover from the one we usually see in the United States.

Here are some of the suprising results of “robot exposure” — that is, of robots in the workplace.

  • A 10% increase in family time invested in children’s education
  • A 24% increase in investment in kids’ after-school and extra-curricular activities
  • An increase in younger workers’ work-related training
  • A 10% increase in debt for families
  • A 14% increase in number of hours worked
  • A 1-2% decrease in number of children

These stats aren’t what we would usually predict as the results of having robots show up in the factory.

Social consequences

The researchers, producing a paper for the National Bureau of Economics Research, saw economic effects quite clearly. China has the largest number of industrial robots in the world, and saw a rise in automation following a government push to automate manufacturing.

The influx of robots lowered wages and increased unemployment across the board.

They expressed concern that increasing automation would lead to inequality. A study from MIT found just this: blue collar workers were more likely to lose their jobs, driving down he demand for their skills and the wags they can command.

Higher paid workers whose jobs can’t be as easily automated did not see the same dynamic.

On the other hand, the researchers pointed ut that higher wages could actually;y lead to increasing automation. In the service sector, for example, workers demanding $15 an hour for working in the hospitality industry could easily find themselves replaced by robots. Higher wages plus benefits could make the shift to automatic waiters and fry cooks appealing to restaurant owners.

A move to automate low-paying jobs at much higher rates could pit blue-collar and service workers against one another, reducing demand for their services in spite of current labor shortages.

If one of the consequences is a focus on education for their children, however, there could be overall benefits.

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