New Study Adds More Evidence That Tech Affects Worker’s Well-Being


Jun. 13, 2018

Constant technological advancement is seen as a positive for some and a negative for others. That progression in the workplace is affecting people’s health due to fear of losing their jobs, according to a new study.

“County-level Job Automation Risk and Health: Evidence From the United States” is the third of a series of studies that looks into the potential effects of automation-related job losses from the last four years. The study of more than 3,000 U.S. counties was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. It found that automation is causing people to have poor job security and is affecting their mental and physical health as well.

“What we suspect is part of the cause of the agent is fear of or concern about job losses affecting your household, or your neighbor’s household, which would then affect you,” said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and one of the four researchers involved in the study. “We were also interested in the health care outcomes because those are often ignored.”

A 10-percentage-point increase in automation risk at the county level worsens general, physical and mental health by 2.38 percentage points, 0.8 percentage points, and 0.6 percentage points, respectively, based on study results. The study reveals that physical distress such as being hospitalized and not being able to work, and mental distress such as depression are linked to people’s fear of losing their jobs to automation.

Hicks and the other contributors, Srikant Devaraj, research assistant professor at Ball State; Emily J. Wornell, research assistant professor at Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute; and Pankaj C. Patel at Villanova University, made sure to take into account factors that may have made a difference in the end results. They had to control factors such as educational background, income inequality, age, population, ethnic groups and amount of income.

“When we controlled for all those factors we still found that the percent of automation risk was statistically significant across the board, which shocked us,” said Hicks. “I actually at the beginning of this said when we control for all these other factors we won’t find anything at all.”

The series of studies is still not done. Hicks said they are working on a fourth and fifth study that will focus on understanding “what the racial and ethnic effects of automation job risks are,” whether it affects men and women differently and if it’s affecting the fiscal conditions within counties.

“Counties that are at more risk of automation — are they doing things to keep the jobs there that may cause them tax dollars that weaken other institutions? So that’s one of the factors that we’re very concerned about,” said Hicks.

Aysha Ashley Househ is a Workforce editorial associate. Comment below or email

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