This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Send in the Robots? Is This the Answer to Low Fertility?

Joseph Chamie, former head of the UN Population Division, has posted a new article in which he lays out the case for (and, to be fair, also against) an increase in the use of robots in aging, low-fertility countries. This would be a way of getting around the need for bringing in immigrants to compensate for the lack of younger workers. Notice in the graph below that the current top countries in terms of robots per 100 workers are, in fact, countries that have strong issues with respect to immigrants.
High robot-to-worker ratios are found in South Korea, Japan and Germany (Figure 3). While more than half of the top ten countries in robot-to-worker ratios belong to the European Union, 75 percent of the world’s robots are geographically concentrated in five countries: China, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide will increase to around 2.6 million by 2019, which is nearly a doubling since 2015.

South Korea and Japan have long resisted immigrants, while Germany has a large Turkish-origin population that was originally recruited to help rebuild the country after WWII, but then the guest-workers stayed on--with social and political ramifications that the country is currently dealing with, as discussed in an article in this week's Economist. And, of course, the German resistance to allowing in Syrian and other refugees is the main reason why the EU is paying Turkey to "warehouse" them for the time being.

I haven't spent any time around robots, so it is hard for me personally to know how their widespread presence would alter human society. In my recent stay in the hospital here in San Diego, I was very aware and appreciative of the immigrant physicians and nurses who were keeping me alive. Not everyone can be replaced, in my opinion. Furthermore, we need to keep in mind that the large bulge in the aging population is a transition--not a permanent feature of human society. We need to get through this age transition, and change the way that society thinks about and prepares for the older ages, as I have discussed before.

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