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Our latest ERC project publication in European Journal of Population: Industrial Robots and Regional Fertility in European Countries

Do the long-term structural changes in the labour market, driven by automation, affect fertility?

Over the last two decades, technological advancements in production, including cutting-edge industrial robots, have tremendously transformed the labour markets in advanced market economies, creating new career opportunities, but also inducing fears of job displacement.The adoption of robots and machines will indeed change the ways we work and change the demand for skills. Some jobs, in particular those which require performing routine tasks, will likely be destroyed or substantially change.Despite somee limitations and inconsistencies, our findings suggest that long-term structural changes, driven by automation, can indeed affect fertility as it was proposed by Seltzer (2019).

Nonetheless, it does not seem robotisation is primarily responsible for fertility declines observed in the aftermath of the Great Recession in most advanced countries. It exerts a negative influence on fertility in certain regions (highly industrialised or low/middle educated), but these effects are compensated by fertility increases in better educated and dynamically developing regions.

It is likely that fertility is also affected by other components of structural labour market changes, driven by digitalisation, such as implementation of digital automats which also replace workers but are not classified as industrial robots, spread of remote work or increasingly widespread use of AI. Another possibility is that our study, conducted at the macro level, masks some important nuances such as differential effects of automation on workers’fertility.

These effects may certainly differ by:

  • workers’ gender and socio-economic status (education or occupation)

  • or firm characteristics (firm’s capacity to retrain and retain workers).

Fertility effects of automation may also depend on the labour market situation of the other partner and whether he or she is affected by automation as well. Future research should thus account for other aspects of long-term structural changes in the labour market, besides automation, and involve individual-level data in order to look more closely into specific circumstances of workers.

More research is also needed to unravel the mechanisms which underlie these relationships.

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