Death by robots might seem like an unusual cause of death, but as robots replace people on factory floors, there has been a rise of suicides and drug overdoses — especially in people between 45 to 54. A new study found a link between automation of U.S. manufacturing and an increased mortality rate among working-class adults.
Automation is partially responsible for a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. Prior research has estimated a loss of 420,000 to 750,000 jobs during the 1990s and 2000s, most of which were manufacturing jobs.
“For decades, manufacturers in the United States have turned to automation to remain competitive in a global marketplace, but this technological innovation has reduced the number of quality jobs available to adults without a college degree — a group that has faced increased mortality in recent years,” says lead author Rourke O’Brien, assistant professor of sociology in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in a media release. “Our analysis shows that automation exacts a toll on the health of individuals both directly — by reducing employment, wages, and access to healthcare — as well as indirectly, by reducing the economic vitality of the broader community.”
Job loss and low wages led to a rise in suicide and opioid drug use
The team tracked U.S. industries transitioning to automation between 1993 and 2007. Then, they overlapped these trends with U.S. death-certificate data over the same time period to estimate the mortality rate of working-age adults in those counties and how they died.
For every industrial robot per 1,000 workers, there were about 8 more deaths per every 100,000 males between 45 to 54. There were also 4 additional deaths per 100,000 females in the same age group.