The Short-Term Effects of Generative Artificial Intelligence on Employment: Evidence from an Online Labor Market

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Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds the potential to either complement knowledge workers by increasing their productivity or substitute them entirely. We examine the short-term effects of the recent release of the large language model (LLM), ChatGPT, on the employment outcomes of freelancers on a large online platform. We find that freelancers in highly affected occupations suffer from the introduction of generative AI, experiencing reductions in both employment and earnings. We find similar effects studying the release of other image-based, generative AI models. Exploring the heterogeneity by freelancers’ employment history, we do not find evidence that high-quality service, measured by their past performance and employment, moderates the adverse effects on employment. In fact, we find suggestive evidence that top freelancers are disproportionately affected by AI. These results suggest that in the short term generative AI reduces overall demand for knowledge workers of all types, and may have the potential to narrow gaps among workers.

Ryan Watkins