Technology and the Future of Work: A Sceptical View of the Impending Job Apocalypse

futuristic humanoid robot sitting relaxed in the office and watching his PC monitor.
3d rendered image from Adobe Stock by Mykola

It seems that the emergence of each new technology sets off a new panic about an impending job apocalypse. The rapid disappearance of jobs is expected to produce widespread social disruptions and even social chaos. Solutions include a four-day workweek and a guaranteed annual income. Numerous fundamental misunderstandings of the relationship between technology and work continue to cloud the public discussion of these issues, including the notion that there is a fixed amount of work that needs to be done. I review theory and evidence regarding the history of work that leads to a less pessimistic assessment. While technology and many other factors have contributed to considerable social disruptions over the past 150 years, the rate of occupational change is no greater now – and probably slower – than it has been in the past. Demographic forecasts of labour shortages also point against a technologically driven over-supply of workers. Case studies regarding the long-term trajectory of blacksmiths and secretaries are presented. Some preliminary ideas regarding elder care and the "personal" or "human" premium will also be discussed, time permitting.

Jerry A. Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and first president of the Work and Family Researchers Network. Jacobs has served as Editor of the American Sociological Review, President of the Eastern Sociological Society and co-President of Sociologists for Women in Society. He has won several career achievement awards for his scholarship and professional contributions. Jacobs has written extensively about gender, education, women’s careers and work-family issues. His six books include The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2004) with Kathleen Gerson and In Defense of Disciplines (University of Chicago Press, 2014). His current projects include a multi-faceted exploration of the future of work and a special issue on the impact of COVID on gender and the domestic division of labour. His website and CV can be found here.

This seminar is a joint event between the ANU School of Sociology and the ANU School of Demography.  For enquiries and more information, please contact Associate Professor Joanna Sikora.

Date & time

Mon 18 Mar 2024, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


RSSS Building, Seminar room 4.69


Prof Jerry A. Jacobs (University of Pennsylvania)


Joanna Sikora


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