When Do Computers Reduce the Value of Worker Persistence?
22 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2018
Date Written: November 16, 2018
Worker persistence – the ability to perform tasks consistently for long periods of time – is important in many occupations, particularly in routine occupations that value consistency of worker performance. However, computers are very persistent, potentially reducing the value of human persistence in occupations that are computerized. Using a well-defined measure of individual persistence across a nationally-representative 16-year sample of 4,235 individuals, we investigate the extent to which occupations value persistence in the presence of computers. In contrast to a broad replacement effect documented in other studies, we hypothesize and find evidence to support a distributional effect of computers and persistence. We find that, in routine jobs, the wage premium for human persistence diminishes with the degree of workplace computerization. Yet, in non-routine jobs, the premium does not diminish with computerization. Our findings add empirically-grounded nuance to the nature of workplace computerization, showing that persistent computers make persistent workers less valuable in routine occupations. These findings have important theoretical, policy and managerial implications for the future of work and workers.
Keywords: workplace computerization, routine-biased technological change, persistence, wage premium, distributional effects
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