The Changing Nature of Work

Published: 2020
Project ID: UM20-03


After decades of growth, since 2010 both applications and awards for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) have steadily declined. This decline in SSDI applications has not been accompanied by an improvement in overall health as measured in national surveys. Conceptually, disability is the interaction between individual health and job demands. Therefore, a plausible hypothesis for the decline in SSDI applications is that job demands have decreased in recent years, leading to a decline in the prevalence of disability. The proposed research will investigate the changing nature of work over the past 20 years by linking historical measures of occupational job demands with harmonized data on individual abilities from a unique survey conducted in the RAND American Life Panel in 2018. Combining these two data sets, we will construct a time series of measured work capacity holding health fixed at a point in time (i.e., 2018) and varying job demands since 1998. Using this measure, we will examine whether work capacity has increased over time due to declining job demands and, if so, decompose changes into: a) within-occupation changes in job demands; and b) changes in the distribution of “low demand” jobs in the national economy.