Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation
Labour-saving technologies and employment levels
Are robots really making workers redundant?
This paper exploits natural language processing techniques to detect explicit labour-saving
goals in inventive efforts in robotics and assess their relevance for different occupational
profiles and the impact on employment levels. The analysis relies on patents published
by the European Patent Office between 1978 and 2019 and firm-level data from ORBIS®
IP. It investigates innovative actors engaged in labour-saving technologies and their
economic environment (identity, location, industry), and identifies technological
fields and associated occupations which are particularly exposed to them. Labour-saving
patents are concentrated in Japan, the United States, and Italy, and seem to affect
low-skilled and blue-collar jobs, along with highly cognitive and specialised professions.
A preliminary analysis does not find an appreciable negative effect on employment
shares in OECD countries over the past decade, but further research to econometrically
investigate the relationship between labour-saving technological developments and
employment would be helpful.