The Effect of computer use on work discretion and work intensity: Evidence from Europe

Seetha Menon, Andrea Salvatori, Wouter Zwysen

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This article studies changes in computer use and work discretion and intensity in the EU-15 between 1995 and 2015. We document that while the proportion of workers using computers has increased from 40 per cent to more than 60 per cent, there remain significant differences between countries even within the same occupations. Several countries have seen a significant increase in computer use even in low-skilled occupations generally assumed to be less affected by technology. Overall, the great increase in computer use between 1995 and 2015 coincided with a period of modest deterioration of job quality in the EU-15 as a whole, as work discretion declined for most occupational and educational groups, while work intensity increased slightly for most of them. Our OLS results exploiting variation within country-occupation cells point to a sizeable positive effect of computer use on work discretion, but to no effect on work intensity. Our instrumental variable estimates point to an even more benign effect of computer use on job quality as measured by work discretion and work intensity. Hence, the results suggest that the (moderate) deterioration in the quality of work observed in the EU-15 between 1995 and 2015 has occurred despite the spread of computers, rather than because of them.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Industrial Relations
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1004-1038
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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