The emergence of automation has revolutionized almost every sector across the globe. It is helping to increase productivity within limited resources and decrease human effort. But at the same time, it is also causing human death directly and indirectly.
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Industrialization has been increasing since the 1980s and has now been linked to a decline in the life expectancy of US citizens. At present, Americans die three years early than other working people in developed countries. This is due to economic stress, job loss and unemployment within the country pushing citizens to attempt suicide or abuse drugs.
“For decades, manufacturers in the United States have turned to automation to remain competitive in a global marketplace, but this technological innovation has reduced the number of quality jobs available to adults without a college degree—a group that has faced increased mortality in recent years,” said Rourke O’Brien, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University and study lead author.
“Our analysis shows that automation exacts a toll on the health of individuals both directly—by reducing employment, wages, and access to healthcare—as well as indirectly, by reducing the economic vitality of the broader community.”
Previous studies have shown that the adoption of industrial machinery has caused an estimated job loss of 420,000 to 750,000 during the 1990s and 2000s. The majority of jobs were from the manufacturing sector.
Insights into the research
To understand the link between increased deaths and automation, O’Brien and his team used data and matrices available on the adoption of automation in the US industries between 1993 and 2007. They combined this data with the number of deaths that occurred in the same period. This helped them to determine the impact of automation on the mortality of working citizens.
Researchers found that each new robot or machine with over 1,000 workers caused eight extra deaths on 1,00,000 males aged between 45 to 54 years. However, the number of extra deaths was reduced to half in the case of females of the same age group.
The analysis also showed that automation caused an increase in suicides among millennial men and deaths due to drug overdose among men of all age groups and women in 20 to 29 years. Overall, automation could account for 12 percent of the increase in drug overdose death among working-age people during the study period. The study indicated that job losses increased and wages were reduced due to automation. It also caused physical health issues such as cancer and heart diseases in specific working groups and increased homicide.
The researchers analyzed the working policies that could reduce automation’s negative impacts. They discovered that unemployment benefit policies and social safety net programs such as Medicaid slightly reduced the harmful effects of automation among millennial men. These programs focus on improving the lives of vulnerable or economically weak individuals and families by contributing food, medical assistance, and school fee waivers. The safety programs are offered by the government, private institutes, schools, hospitals, etc.
“Our findings underscore the importance of public policy in supporting the individuals and communities who have lost their jobs or seen their wages cut due to automation,” said Venkatarmani, the study co-author. “A strong social safety net and labour market policies that improve the quality of jobs available to workers without a college degree may help reduce deaths of despair and strengthen the general health of communities, particularly those in our nation’s industrial heartland.”