From Blue to Steel-Collar Jobs: The Decline in Employment Gaps?

82 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2021 Last revised: 14 Dec 2022

See all articles by Benjamin Lerch

Benjamin Lerch

University of Lugano - Faculty of Economics

Date Written: July 8, 2021


I investigate how the introduction of industrial robots is shaping the demographic composition of the US labor force. Exploiting exogenous variation in robot exposure across local labor markets over time, I find that the adoption of robots between 1993 and 2014 decreased employment of men and women by 3.7 and 1.6 percentage points, contributing to the secular decline in the gender employment gap, and that it decreased employment among whites and non-whites by 1.8 and 4.5 percentage points, widening the race/ethnicity employment gap. I show that these effects are due to persistent occupational segregation in the US labor market, as men and non-whites are often employed in blue-collar jobs which require physical skills that can be automated. Although robots are primarily used in manufacturing industries, I find that their adverse effects also spill over to local service industries, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities.

Keywords: industrial robots, employment, gender, race and ethnicity

JEL Classification: J15, J16, J23

Suggested Citation

Lerch, Benjamin, From Blue to Steel-Collar Jobs: The Decline in Employment Gaps? (July 8, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin Lerch (Contact Author)

University of Lugano - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Via Giuseppe Buffi 13
CH-6900 Lugano, CH-6904

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