Routine Workers in an Increasingly Automated World of Work: Evidence from Switzerland

Thomas Kurer

This paper explores the distributional consequences of technological change on midskilled

routine workers in Switzerland in three steps: (1) The first part studies

aggregate trends in the labor market and confirms the pattern of an eroding middle:

The disadvantages of technological progress are concentrated on routine workers

whose share in the labor force has drastically declined over time. (2) In order to

better understand the economic conditions associated with this overall pattern, the

second part draws on individual-level panel data to study actual employment

transitions. The analysis shows that transitions are less frequent than the aggregate

pattern might suggest: Only a minority of routine workers actually switches to other

jobs while the largest chunk of the decline is explained by ‘natural transitions’ into

retirement. (3) The last part of the paper builds on original survey data to examine

routine workers’ subjective assessment of their chances in a changing world of work

and demonstrates a surprisingly high degree of consciousness about susceptibility to

automation. To conclude, I discuss some societal implications of the ‘hollowing of

the middle’.

Keywords: Employment Polarization, Automation, Technological Change, Routine Work, Hollowing of the Middle, Panel Data, Switzerland

Vol: 1/2019 - Article 1.2