Robot Adoption Brings Benefits to Japan’s Aging Society

In one of the first studies of service sector robotics, APARC scholars examine the impacts of robots on nursing homes in Japan. They find that robot adoption may not be detrimental to labor and may help address the challenges of rapidly aging societies.

Noa Ronkin

Technological development has increased productivity and increased the wealth of civilizations, but the effect of new digital technology may be unlike anything else that has been seen before. Some experts foresee a future in which robots and other kinds of automation would progressively replace employees, resulting in stagnating wages and rising inequality. However, determining the overall effect of new technology on the work force is challenging. Although there is anecdotal evidence that robots and automation are reducing manufacturing jobs and salaries, there is no data from the service sector to support this claim. Collaborative research by APARC specialists is already beginning to close this gap in understanding.

The researchers, which included Karen Eggleston, APARC deputy director and director of the Asia Health Policy Program (AHPP), Yong Suk Lee, the deputy director of the Korea Program, and Toshiaki Iizuka, a former AHPP visiting scholar from the University of Tokyo, set out to investigate the impact of robots on services provided in nursing homes in Japan. Karen Eggleston, APARC deputy director and director of the Asia Health Policy Program (AHPP). Their research, which was one of the first to look at service industry robotics, provides a counterpoint to the doomsday predictions about robots taking over people’s jobs.

According to a research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the use of robots has expanded job possibilities for non-regular care workers, has helped to reduce the high turnover rate that plagues nursing facilities, and has given employees with more flexibility. Additionally, it has been published in the AHPP’s working paper series and is a component of a larger research project by Eggleston, Lee, and Iizuka that examines the impact of robots on nursing home care in Japan, as well as the implications of robotic technologies adoption in aging societies, as well as the implications of robotic technologies adoption in aging societies.

Japan has been on the front lines of a demographic catastrophe, coping with a shrinking total population, a rising percentage of elderly, and a strong reluctance to large-scale immigration, among other challenges. It has also been a pioneer in the use of robotics to solve a labor shortage in the long-term care industry, which is increasing in tandem with the demand for such services. Japan’s experience is particularly interesting at a time when more nations are confronted with aging populations, since it sheds insight on the interaction between demography and new automation technology.

Eggleston, Lee, and Iizuka explain their research, its results, and the consequences of their findings in a article. While investigating the connection between robot adoption and nursing home staffing in Japan, they discovered that robot-adopting nursing facilities employed anywhere from 3% to 8% higher numbers of people than those that were not robot adopters (see figure). The non-regular workers were the only ones that saw a rise in their numbers of personnel. Nurture homes equipped with robots also seemed to have greater management quality and were more capable of relieving caregivers of their responsibilities. As a consequence of the findings, “the surge of technology that has caused alarm in many nations may actually be beneficial in alleviating the social and economic problems caused by population aging in other countries.”

The study by Eggleston, Lee, and Iizuka was recently featured in the Financial Times Magazine, which described it as “groundbreaking in several ways, but perhaps most clearly for setting its sights not on manufacturing but on the services sector, where robots are only just beginning to make a mark,” among other things. This research is important because it provides a basis for an empirical discussion “on a topic that will be deluged with human emotion as robots continue their march into the services sector,” according to the article.

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Categories: Tech&Innovation