For years, the ongoing conflict of man versus machine was the stuff of science fiction lore.

Now, what was formerly science fiction has become social reality, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The study, entitled “Will More Workers Have Nontraditional Jobs As Globalization And Automation Spread?” was co-authored by Matthew S. Rutledge, Gal Wettstein, and Sara Ellen King.

The study’s researchers sought to determine whether global competition and automation were to blame for an increased number of displaced workers. In addition, they sought to know whether areas with a weak labor market for traditional jobs had been impacted by automation and global competition.

Looking at data stretching from 1996 to 2008, they saw an increase in the use of industrial robots, an 11% increase in non-traditional employment and a 17% increase in non-traditional jobs filled by workers aged 50 to 62.

Researchers also found that middle-aged workers were most often at risk of having to settle for non-traditional work over traditional work.

Younger workers, ages 26 to 34, were evenly split across all three categories or work: 20.98% were employed in non-traditional jobs; 20.21% were employed in traditional jobs; and 20.82% transitioned from a traditional job to a non-traditional job.

Middle-aged workers, ages 35-49, constituted the largest age category in the study, as well as the largest majority transitioning from traditional to non-traditional jobs (50.09%), followed by traditional jobs (49.46%) and non-traditional (47.83%).

A third of older workers, ages 50-62, nearing retirement age, were employed in non-traditional jobs (31.19%), followed by those employed in traditional jobs (30.34%), and those transitioning from traditional to non-traditional (29.09%)

Workers employed in traditional jobs earned almost three times as much ($25,582) as those employed in non-traditional jobs ($9,552), and more than four times as much as those transitioning from traditional work to non-traditional work ($6,186).

The results suggest that while non-traditional work is more likely in states with greater exposure to automation, exposure to increased import competition has no significant relationship with nontraditional work, the researchers said. Moreover, as automation continues to increase, its affect may be to reduce worker bargaining power and encourage employers to seek less permanent relationships with workers.

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