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Automation and Jobs: When Technology Boosts Employment

45 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2017 Last revised: 14 Apr 2017

James E. Bessen

Boston University - School of Law; Research on Innovation

Date Written: April 12, 2017


Will industries use new information technologies to eliminate jobs? Sometimes productivity-enhancing technology increases industry employment instead. In manufacturing, jobs grew along with productivity for a century or more; only later did productivity gains bring declining employment. What changed? Markets became saturated. Using two centuries of data, a simple model of demand accurately explains the rise and fall of employment in the US textile, steel, and automotive industries. The model also predicts that computer technology should generate relatively greater job growth in non-manufacturing industries today. Estimates show computer use is associated with declining employment in manufacturing industries, but not in other sectors.

Keywords: Automation, technical change, sectoral growth, labor demand, manufacturing, computer technology, deindustrialization

JEL Classification: J2, O3, N10

Suggested Citation

Bessen, James E., Automation and Jobs: When Technology Boosts Employment (April 12, 2017). Boston Univ. School of Law, Law and Economics Research Paper No. 17-09. Available at SSRN:

James Bessen (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Research on Innovation ( email )

202 High Head Rd.
Harpswell, ME 04079
United States
617-531-2092 (Phone)

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