DP14593 Robot Imports and Firm-Level Outcomes

Author(s): Alessandra Bonfiglioli, Rosario Crinò, Harald Fadinger, Gino Gancia
Publication Date: April 2020
Date Revised: November 2020
Keyword(s): automation, Displacement, firms, robots
JEL(s): D22, J23, J24, O33
Programme Areas: International Trade and Regional Economics, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14593

We use French data over the 1994-2013 period to study how imports of industrial robots affect firm-level outcomes. Compared to other firms operating in the same 5-digit sector, robot importers are larger, more productive, and employ a higher share of managers and engineers. Over time, robot import occurs after periods of expansion in firm size, and is followed by improvements in efficiency and a fall in demand for labor. Guided by a simple model, we develop various empirical strategies to identify the causal effects of robot adoption. Our results suggest that, while demand shocks generate a positive correlation between robot imports and employment, exogenous changes in automation lead to job losses. We also find that robot imports increase productivity and the employment share of high-skill professions, but have a weak effect on total sales. The latter result suggests that productivity gains from automation may not be entirely passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices.