You might think robots and other forms of workplace automation gain traction due to intrinsic advances in technology — that innovations naturally find their way into the economy. But a study co-authored by an MIT professor tells a different story: Robots are more widely adopted where populations become notably older, filling the gaps in an aging industrial work force.
First, Acemoglu and Restrepo found a strong relationship between an aging work force — defined by the ratio of workers 56 and older to those ages 21 to 55 — and robot deployment in 60 countries. Aging alone accounted for not only 35 percent of the variation in robot use among countries, but also 20 percent of the variation in imports of robots, the researchers found.
Overall, Acemoglu says, “Our findings suggest that quite a bit of investment in robotics is not driven by the fact that this is the next ‘amazing frontier,’ but because some countries have shortages of labor, especially middle-aged labor that would be necessary for blue-collar work.”