Working paper

Occupational change, artificial intelligence and the geography of EU labour markets

From 2002 up to 2009, the economies of European Union countries went through a skill upgrading, rather than a polarisation between low-skill and high-

Publishing date
15 June 2020

We study the nature and geography of occupational change in 24 European Union countries from 2002 to 2016. We evaluate how the composition of skills in the labour force depends on new technologies enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning, and on institutional variables including educational attainment, labour legislation and product market regulations.

We find that on average, EU countries have been through an upgrading of the skills of their occupational structures, rather than a pervasive polarisation. However, job polarisation is significant for workers without university degrees. Moreover, the European debt crisis has led to some job polarisation, which is particularly evident in urban centres. The changes in occupational structures appear to vary substantially across European Union regions. Cities, followed by suburban areas and towns, have suffered the largest declines in mid-skilled jobs. On the potential impact of new technologies, we find that low-skill mid-skill jobs are significantly exposed.

Occupational changes caused by these technologies are likely to be more concentrated in cities and suburban areas. Last but not least, countries with high degrees of labour flexibility, high quality science education and less pervasive product market regulations tend to have higher skill-oriented occupational structures.

Recommended citation
Brekelmans, S. and G. Petropoulos. (2020) ‘Occupational change, artificial intelligence and the geography of EU labour markets’, Working Paper 03/2020, Bruegel

About the authors

  • Georgios Petropoulos

    Georgios Petropoulos joined Bruegel as a visiting fellow in November 2015, and he has been a resident fellow since April 2016. Since March 2022, he has been a non-resident fellow. Since March 2019, he is a Marie Curie Skłodowska Research Fellow at MIT and Bruegel and post-doctoral fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. Georgios’ research focuses on the implications of digital technologies on innovation, competition policy and labour markets. He is currently studying how we should regulate digital platforms, what the relationship between big data and market competition is as well as how the adoption of robots and information technologies affect labour markets and firms’ market returns. He holds a bachelors degree in Physics, master’s degrees in mathematical economics and econometrics and a PhD degree in Economics. He has also studied Astrophysics at a Master's level.

  • Sybrand Brekelmans

    Sybrand is a Dutch national and a research assistant at Bruegel since September 2019. He holds a Master's Degree in Specialized Economic Analysis in macroeconomic policy and financial markets from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE). Prior to that, he completed a BSc in Economics and Mathematics at the University of Utrecht. His research interests include international trade, monetary policy, and empirical techniques such as complexity analysis and macroeconometrics.

    Prior to Bruegel, Sybrand has worked at the OECD Development Centre where he was part of the Asia Desk. He was involved in the drafting of the unit's biannual flagship publication: The Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India. He contributed to the publication on topics such as international and regional trade, monetary policy, and infrastructure development policy. Among others, he worked on trade-related issues, focusing on the trade war between the United-States and China and its impact on the Southeast Asian economies.

    Sybrand is fluent in Dutch, French, and English and speaks German at a basic level.

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