Digitalization, Automation and the Future of Work in Post-Industrial Welfare States

Project Description

Aims and Central Research Question

We aim to understand how politics, society and businesses interact to adapt to the social, economic and political challenges of digitalization and automation. Technological changes are in the process of transforming work as we know it, with important consequences for social inequality.
We investigate to what extent the digital transformation of work is perceived as a threat or opportunity by workers, citizens, policy-makers and businesses. We analyze the demands, expectations and behavior of political actors concerning the regulation of technological change. And we look into their stances with regard to labor market, education, and social policy reforms.


Whether and to what extent the digital economy will qualitatively change labor markets and welfare states is a hotly debated question. The digital transformation will certainly result in large pay-offs. What marks it will leave on social inequality depends on how these pay-offs will be (re-)distributed. We are looking into the political struggles about this distribution, and study the real effects of technological change on the labor market. Furthermore, we are interested in the consequences for policy-making in the domains of education, labor market and social policies.


Our research design is based on multi-level comparison and makes use of multiple methods: We will

  1. conduct a survey of public opinion on labor market and social policies;
  2. analyze how employers’ and employee representatives’ strategies for handling workplace digitalization affect inequalities within businesses and the behavior of individual employees; and
  3. conduct a series of qualitative case studies based on expert interviews and document analysis to study policy positions of political actors.

To compare different models of capitalism and welfare state regimes, we include a number of countries in our analysis: Germany, Sweden, the U.S., Italy and Estonia.


Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Organizational Studies

Starting Date

1 October 2019 (1 February 2019 for first seed funding phase)

Project Partners

Melanie Arntz (ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research, Mannheim)

Melanie Arntz is deputy of ZEW's Research Department “Labour Markets and Human Resources” and Leibniz Professor of Labour Economics at the University of Heidelberg. Her research focusses on the question how changing labour market conditions such as an increasing digitalization of work tasks and the proceeding international division of production processes affects labour markets and individuals. Find more information about Melanie Arntz here.

Brian Burgoon (University of Amsterdam)

Brian Burgoon is Professor of International and Comparative Political Economy at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He is also Academic Director of the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) at the UvA. He received his PhD from MIT in 1998 and has been on the UvA faculty since 2001. His research focuses on the politics of economic globalization; of welfare and labor-market policies and standards; and of how economic conditions influence political conflict. Find more information about Brian Burgoon here.

Kathleen Thelen (Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA)

Kathleen Thelen is Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT. Thelen has served as President of the American Political Science Association (APSA), Chair of the Council for European Studies and as President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. Thelen is General Editor, along with Eric Wibbels, of the Cambridge University Press Series in Comparative Politics, and a permanent external member of the Max Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung in Cologne, Germany.