New roads to tasks
This year the European Association for Comparative Economic Studies held its Biennial meeting in Regensburg, Germany. Participating in this conference is certainly something special, not just for the quality of the presentations and the speakers (among keynotes this year were Saul Estrin and Leszek Balcerowicz, with a short but thought-provoking speech), but also for personal reasons. The previous conference in Budapest, was first ever for Lucas to participate in, and returning to the conference brings already some good memories.
This time, the presentation was part of what will become Lucas' PhD dissertation: an analysis of the relation between the task content of occupations and labor marketing supply. The idea, pioneered, by David Autor and several others is that computers can replace workers in certain tasks.They can outperform workers in tasks that are repetitive and occur in a controlled environment, but they have difficulties in dealing with people or being creative, just to name a few. The thesis goes that technological progress allows to substitute workers performing those tasks, by machine, but then a question emerges on what happen to the displaced workers. The consensus seems to be that they might find employment in low-skill sectors away from machine competition, such as hairdressers or bus drivers. Yet, when workers are older, an alternative option is available to them: join early retirement programs.
In the presentation, we seek to understand how technological progress affected older workers. Against our expectations, we do not find evidence that workers in occupations more exposed to technological competition are likely to retire sooner. However, there is some evidence that it affected the number of hours worked. These two pieces of evidence do not fit well with a view derived from a human capital perspective, and call for deeper research on the decision to work at later stages of the life-cycle. If you are interested in our results, you can find the presentation below.