Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 39 Number 1 2022 pp. 41-67

Do Computers Reduce the Value of Worker Persistence?

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Liu, Meng, and Westerman, George


Worker persistence—the ability to focus on a task for long periods of time—is often highlighted as essential to success. However, computers are extraordinarily persistent, particularly for routine, repetitive work. This potentially reduces the value of human persistence in occupations that are computerized. Using a well-defined measure of worker persistence across a nationally-representative 16-year sample of 4,239 individuals, we investigate the extent to which occupations value worker persistence in the presence of computers. We find that the labor market does indeed value persistence. Nonetheless, we find that in routine jobs, the wage premium of human persistence diminishes with the degree of workplace computerization. Yet, this substitution does not occur in non-routine jobs. These findings deepen our understanding of the effect of workplace computerization on the future of work and workers, and they also warrant imlications on government job training programs, organizational talent management, as well as the redesign of the K-12 curriculum.

Key words and phrases: Workplace computerization, routine-biased technological change, wage premium, worker grit, labor economics, worker persistence, computerization effects