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Expand chart
Reproduced from a National Bureau of Economic Reserach chart; Data extracted with WebPlotDigitizer; Chart: Axios Visuals

As the workforce ages in some countries and middle-aged workers are in short supply, industrial robots are stepping in to perform their jobs, according to a recent paper by economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo.

The big picture: Today, Asian countries have about eight workers for every person over the age of 65, and Europe and North America have 4 or fewer, according to the UN. But by 2050, seven Asian countries, 24 European and four Latin American will have a ratio of less than 2 workers per retiree, the UN projects. Experts say the U.S. social security system is stable at a ratio of 3 workers per retiree. When it falls to 2 to 1, they say the program becomes unsustainable.

That brings in robots: Germany, Japan and South Korea — all of which are aging rapidly — are seeing a comparatively fast rise in the use of industrial robots and automation. The U.S. and U.K. are "lagging behind in robotics because they are not aging as rapidly" Acemoglu and Restrepo write in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

Aging, Acemoglu and Restrepo report, can account for 40%-60% of the difference between nations' adoption of industrial robots. "[I]f the United States had the same demographic trends as Germany, the gap in robotics between the two countries would be 25% smaller," they wrote.

Key assumption: Middle-aged workers more so than older ones "specialize in production tasks that can be automated using industrial robots." These tasks include welding, painting, assembly, machining, and loading.

The rapid progress and declining cost of technology also play a role in the adoption of automation, says Guy Michaels, an economics professor at the London School of Economics.

What's next: "People will adjust," says Michaels, who points to the generational aspect of technology being adopted. "Young people are probably readier to accept technology."

  • "At the same time, it doesn’t mean use disruptions will always go smoothly," he says. "It depends in part on who the losers are in terms of technology change."

Go deeper

24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

McConnell drops filibuster demand, paving way for power-sharing deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a joint session of Congress. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has abandoned his demand that Democrats state, in writing, that they would not abandon the legislative filibuster.

Between the lines: McConnell was never going to agree to a 50-50 power sharing deal without putting up a fight over keeping the 60-vote threshold. But the minority leader ultimately caved after it became clear that delaying the organizing resolution was no longer feasible.

2 hours ago - Technology

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Google will not make contributions from its political action committee this cycle to any member of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the presidential election, following the deadly Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Several major businesses paused or pulled political donations following the events of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters, riled up by former President Trump, stormed the Capitol on the day it was to certify the election results.

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Minority Mitch still setting Senate agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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Why it matters: McConnell rolled over Democrats unapologetically, and kept tight control over his fellow Republicans, while in the majority. But he's showing equal skill as minority leader, using political jiujitsu to convert a perceived weakness into strength.

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