Technological Change and Obsolete Skills: Evidence from Men’s Professional Tennis

Project Dates

10/08/2015 -


This project examines the consequences of technological change for workers. In the late 1970’s, the men’s professional tennis game was dramatically altered by the introduction of a new racket technology. The new rackets, commonly called metal or graphite, were superior to the previous wooden rackets in every dimension. Within a few years, the entire professional tour had switched to the new rackets which drastically altered the pace of the game as well as the style of play. The abrupt switch in rackets meant that some players had to adapt to the new technology mid-career. Using data from the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour, the authors will examine the consequences of this technological innovation on earnings, worker productivity, career length, entry and exit, and inequality (both cross-sectional and within-cohort). The data cover the years 1968 to the present, although earlier years may be available as well. The authors argue that the episode provides valuable insights regarding the effects of technological innovation on workers, especially when innovation makes previously valuable skills obsolete.


W.E. Upjohn Institute

Subject Area

LABOR MARKET ISSUES; Job security and unemployment dynamics; WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT; Job skills and standards