Who is Concerned About Automation’s Effect on Employment?

There’s a stereotype about age and technology — the older you get, the less comfortable you are with doodads, gadgets, and thingamajigs. Who do you call if you’re having trouble setting up your WiFi network: the 16-year-old kid down the street or your 65-year-old retired neighbor? When you consider that younger demographics tend to be more comfortable and familiar with technology, it may come as a surprise that “digital natives” are more worried about automation than their older counterparts.

Concern increases as age decreases

A CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness survey asked workers if they were worried about losing their current jobs to automation in the next five years.

On average, Americans aren’t too worried about automation affecting their employment. Just over one-fourth of Americans (27%) believe that the job they currently have will be automated in the next five years.

However, this belief wasn’t evenly distributed across all demographics. The younger the survey respondent, the greater the concern about losing employment to technology. Respondents over the age of 45 were less worried than the national average, while respondents less than 45 worried as much or more than the national average.

Workers between 18 and 24 years of age reported the most concern about automation’s effect on employment: 37% of workers in this demographic were worried about their current job being automated within five years.

Workers over the age of 65 were the least concerned: only 16% of these workers worried about automation eliminating their job.

So who was worried about their job being eliminated in the near future?

  • 37% of workers 18-24
  • 28% of workers 25 to 34
  • 27% of workers 35-44
  • 26% of workers 45-54
  • 23% of workers 55-64
  • 16% of workers 65+

Why are younger Americans more concerned?

At first glance, the survey results might come as a surprise. Digital natives should be more comfortable and less worried when it comes to technology, right? There are a few potential reasons why younger Americans might be more wary of automation.

The younger you are, the more likely that technology will affect your profession. Why worry about automation replacing your job in five years when you’re three years from retirement? When you’re faced with half a century in the workforce, you are more open to the possibility that technology will shape your work.

Younger workers tend to have more automatable jobs. An 18-year-old fry cook knows that the burger making robots are coming. The survey found that fear of automation increased when the annual salary decreased. 34% of workers making $50,000 or less worried about losing their jobs  to automation. Only 13% of workers making $150,000 or more worried about technology eliminating their profession.

Younger respondents have a better understanding of the trajectory of automation technology. Rather than a fear of the unknown, younger workers are realistic about where technology is heading. They are more concerned about automation because they recognize the potential capabilities of robots, AI, and new technologies.

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