Recent research shows that automation threatens around 9 % of jobs in Western Europe on average, and focuses on how workers whose jobs are threatened by automation react politically in Western European countries.
The doctoral thesis from the University of Helsinki illustrates that automation-threatened workers are worried about the prospects of welfare competition and social status decline. Both of these worries are at the heart of why automation-threatened workers in Europe support activation measures that impose strict obligations on unemployment benefit recipiency.
- Even if they are at risk of being burdened by such measures in the long run.
This is reflected in cross-sectional and cross-national 2018 individual-level survey data from the European Social Survey, doctoral candidate Zhen Im states.
The thesis also finds that the difference in support for activation measures between automation and non-automation-threatened workers is largest in European countries where economic hardship has worsened over time.
Workers whose jobs are threatened by automation also prefer radical right parties more than other parties
Based on cross-sectional and cross-national individual-level survey data from the European Social Survey from 2012 to 2016, the thesis also finds that workers whose jobs are threatened by automation have a higher probability of abstaining from voting than workers whose jobs are less threatened by automation. However, the thesis underscores that when automation-threatened workers vote, they favour radical right parties such as the Front National and True Finns over other parties like centre left, centre right and radical left parties when they choose to vote.
- This is because radical right parties’ programmes and messages appeal to the worries of automation-threatened workers. These workers are anxious about their future social status, and concerned about welfare competition, Zhen Im says.
This thesis also clarifies that these workers support activation measures targeted at social groups that are frequently, although undeservedly, viewed as undeserving of welfare like the unemployed and immigrants. Radical right parties’ programmes and messages today focus on restoring societies back to the ‘good’ old days through imposing traditional and authoritarian social norms and excluding ‘undeserving’ social groups from welfare to restrict welfare competition.
- These messages and programmes are attractive to automation-threatened workers’ concerns.
As workplace automation will be increasingly adopted in a post-COVID world, policymakers must consider how to limit the political fallout from automation
The crucial takeaway from this thesis is that policymakers should not only pay attention to the short and long term economic prospects of workers whose jobs are threatened by automation.
- Rather, they also need to also find ways to restore, maintain, and improve these workers’ precarious social status which have been declining over time. It cautions that neither compensating for unemployment nor training automation-threatened workers for jobs which confer less social recognition and poorer wages is enough, Zhen Im says.
It is important to equip workers with skills that allow them to perform tasks that complement automation in their current jobs in order to maintain the dignity and societal relevance of such jobs.
- Alternatively, it is important to equip these workers with skills that allow them to take up jobs which confer better social status and wages than their previous automation-threatened ones, Zhen Im states.
Zhen Im will defend his doctoral thesis entitled ‘Status decline and welfare competition worries from an automating world of work: the implications of automation risk on support for benefit conditionality policies and party choice’ on 30th April 2021 at 13 o’clock at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. The public examination can be viewed at
Professor Jane Gingrich from University of Oxford (Magdalen College) will serve as the opponent and Associate Professor Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen as the custos.
The thesis will be published in the Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences series.
The thesis is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service (http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-7180-1).
Contact details of the doctoral candidate: