More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper


There is a wide-spread concern that technical change may spur social conflicts, especially if workers are replaced with machines. To empirically analyze whether job destruction drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual roll-out of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,487 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Proximity to large-scale water-powered electricity plants is used to instrument for electricity adoption. Our results confirm that the labor saving nature of electricity was followed by an increase of local conflicts in the form of strikes. But displaced workers were not likely to initiate conflicts. Instead, strikes were most common in sectors with employment growth. Similarly, we find that the strikes were of an offensive rather than a defensive nature. Thus, electrification did not result in rebellions driven by technological anxiety. It rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCentre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Sept 9

Publication series

NameCEPR Discussion paper

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History

Free keywords

  • electrification
  • infrastructure investments
  • Labor conflicts
  • labor demand
  • strikes
  • Technological change


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