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Robots might be bad for men, but give women more bargaining power

  • Technology & Science
  • Innovation and Research
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Robots aren’t a man’s best friend, statistically speaking. They worsen the economic stature of men and, in the process, alter marital status and ultimately marital fertility.

Those are among the findings from an international study involving a University of Pittsburgh economist and published in The Journal of Human Resources.

“There has been an intense debate on the effects of robotics and automation on labor market outcomes, but we still know little about how these structural economic changes are reshaping key life-course choices,” said Osea Giuntella, an expert in labor economics and economic demography and an assistant professor in the Department of Economics in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

So, he set to find out.

Giuntella, along with Massimo Anelli of Bocconi University in Italy and Luca Stella of Freie Universität Berlin, analyzed data spanning 2005-2016 on marriage, marriage fertility, divorce, cohabitation and non-marital fertility compiled in the American Community Survey, an annual U.S. Census Bureau report. They likewise measured regional exposure to robotics via International Federation of Robots data. To mitigate a potential impact from U.S. demographic trends, they compared U.S. regional employment numbers against the rise in robotics and then parallel data from Europe.

In 741 U.S. regions that were more exposed to industrial robots, his team found a statistical decline in men’s wages and workforce participation. They also saw a decline in marriage stability, marriage fertility and the earning power of men.

There’s some good news for women, though: Men’s decreased income translated into a reduction in the gender income gap by 4.2% and the workforce-participation gender gap by 2.1%, meaning that women in these regions gained greater bargaining power.

“Male income fell at a substantially higher rate than female income, decreasing the gender income gap. Moreover, robot exposure has increased female labor force participation significantly while leaving the labor force participation of men unchanged,” Giuntella said. “We argue that these labor market effects affected men’s marriageability and women’s willingness to long-term commitments with a decline in marriages and marital fertility.”

The family dynamic was also greatly affected, the study found. While they discovered no change in the fertility rate overall, marital fertility sustained a 12% decline amid a 15% increase in nonmarital births. Regions experiencing an increase in robot exposure were also associated with a 1% reduction in marriage rate, a 9% increase in divorces and a 10% increase in the likelihood of cohabitations.

In the end, Giuntella and his team surmised, it isn’t that robots will replace human workers, but rather that they cause a ripple effect — something policymakers, roboticized businesses and workers themselves should prepare for.


— Chuck Finder