What is ‘Fobo’ and why are US workers worried about it?

College-educated employees are worried that their jobs will be made obsolete by technology, Gallup survey finds

Concern about technology making one’s job obsolete is up more among younger than older workers in the US, a Gallup survey has shown. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

The fear of becoming obsolete (Fobo) has grown in the past two years among US workers, with 22 per cent now saying they worry that technology will make their job redundant, up from 15 per cent in 2021, a survey has found.

The figure previously varied between 13 per cent and 17 per cent, US analytics and advisory company Gallup said.

The increase has been driven almost entirely by growing fears among college-educated employees, among whom the percentage of those worried has jumped to 20 per cent from 8 per cent, said Gallup, which last month polled 491 US adults employed full or part-time.


Respondents were asked whether they were personally worried about being affected in the near future.

Worry among US workers without a college degree was virtually unchanged at 24 per cent, the survey found.

“It’s easy to foresee the concerns mounting in the coming years – particularly among the college-educated – as technology continues to improve,” said Lydia Saad, Gallup’s director of US social research.

“It is no longer only about robots standing in for humans in warehouses and on assembly lines, but has expanded to online programs conducting sophisticated language-based work, including writing computer code.”

About one in four jobs is expected to change in the next five years as generative artificial intelligence “comes of age”, creating and destroying millions of jobs in the process, the World Economic Forum said in May.

In its survey of 803 companies globally, the forum found that employers expect a structural labour market churn of 23 per cent in the next five years.

Eighteen per cent of work globally could be automated by AI, with a bigger impact on developed than emerging markets, a Goldman Sachs report said in March.

In the US, a quarter of current work tasks could be automated by AI, with sectors most at risk including administrative (46 per cent) and legal (44 per cent) professions. Physically intensive professions such as construction and maintenance have low exposure, according to Goldman Sachs.

Concern about technology making one’s job obsolete is also up more among younger than older workers in the US, the Gallup survey results showed.

It has increased more among those making less than $100,000 than those earning that much or more.

Concern has also increased equally among men and women, with the two groups expressing similar fear levels of displacement, the poll found.

However, AI will disproportionately replace jobs typically held by women, according to human resources analytics company Revelio Labs.

In May, the company identified jobs that are most likely to be replaced by AI based on a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. They then identified the gender breakdown of those jobs and found that many of them are generally held by women, such as bill and account collectors, payroll clerks and executive secretaries.

A reduction in benefits remains the most common job-related concern among US workers polled, Gallup said. Nearly a third, or 31 per cent, said they were worried they could lose benefits in the near future.

The next most common job worry, cited by 24 per cent, was having their wages reduced, followed by the fear of being laid off, highlighted by 20 per cent of respondents.

The least worrisome risk to US workers is having their job moved overseas, cited by 7 per cent.

The percentage of US workers concerned about being laid off or having their wages or hours reduced were significantly lower in the mid-2000s, while 2019 marked the low for concern about benefits being reduced, Gallup said.

Meanwhile, a separate Gallup survey of 135 Fortune 500 HR leaders last month found that 72 per cent of them foresee AI replacing jobs in their company in the next three years.

However, only 16 per cent of these leaders see the technology replacing jobs in their company over the next year.

A majority of HR leaders are hopeful about the utility of AI, with 65 per cent saying it can be used to improve the performance of most roles in their organisation, the Gallup survey found.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 5:53 AM