When Do Computers Reduce the Value of Worker Persistence?

22 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2018

See all articles by Erik Brynjolfsson

Erik Brynjolfsson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Meng Liu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; Washington University in St. Louis

George F. Westerman

MIT Sloan School of Management

Date Written: November 16, 2018

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Brynjolfsson, Erik and Liu, Meng and Westerman, George F., When Do Computers Reduce the Value of Worker Persistence? (November 16, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3286084 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3286084

Erik Brynjolfsson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

E53-313
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-4319 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://digital.mit.edu/erik

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Meng Liu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1208
Saint Louis, MO MO 63130-4899
United States

George F. Westerman

MIT Sloan School of Management ( email )

245 First Street, E94-1513
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-2939 (Phone)

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