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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."

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Wildfires ravage communities in Northern California as thousands evacuate

Firefighters monitoring the scene as flames from the Dixie Fire jump across highway 89 near Greenville, California, on Tuesday. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Two massive California wildfires have triggered new mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of people and destroyed homes and businesses in the state's north overnight.

Details: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, razed houses and businesses as it ripped through the town of Greenville and surrounding areas in Plumas County Wednesday night. The rapidly spreading River Fire burned "multiple" homes as it tore through Placer and Nevada counties, KOVR notes.

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⚽: U.S. women's soccer team beats Australia, wins bronze

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U.S. women's soccer team beats Australia, wins Olympic bronze

The U.S. women's team celebrates during a game against the Netherlands on July 30, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Logan Beerman/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The U.S. women's soccer team won the bronze medal on Thursday after beating ninth-ranked Australia 4-3.

Why it matters: Thursday's victory marks the U.S. team's first bronze in Olympic history, handing the team a medal after it failed to earn one during the Rio Games in 2016.

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