What we can learn from Japan's adoption of robots in the service sector

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Robots hold polar extremes in economic narrative and popular imagination. One narrative depicts a looming dystopian future with robots and other forms of automation increasingly replacing human workers, depressing wages (Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2014), feeding inequality, and contributing to further'deaths of despair' (Case and Deaton 2020, Mulligan 2021). In counter-imaginations, robots embody innovative technology spurring productivity and freeing workers from repetitive, strenuous, monotonous work while helping to relieve labour shortages arising from ageing populations. Such demographic challenges are salient particularly in higher-income countries farther along in the demographic transition, such as the OECD nations, where populations in 18 out of the 36 countries are projected to decline by 2055. These nations face rising old-age dependency ratios, declining employment-to-population ratios, and challenges in providing services to the growing number of frail older adults.

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