Is the World About to Run Out of Human Labor?

Two British economists argue that the plummeting birth rate combined with increased life expectancy worldwide will cause a labor shortage in the upcoming decades.

Overpopulation, wage stagnation, rising home costs, the 1 percent: Take your pick from these economic gripes when discussing the problem of the shrinking middle class. And there’s good reason to complain — because all 50 states have seen the number of middle-income earners diminish over the past 15 years.

But that trend could be turning around not only in the United States, but also globally. In a paper prepared for Morgan Stanley, two British economists argue that the plummeting birth rate combined with increased life expectancy worldwide will cause a labor shortage in the upcoming decades that will then lead to a reversal of corporate hegemony.

"Companies have been making pots of money, but life isn't going to be so cozy for them anymore."

According to London School of Economics professor Charles Goodhart, the co-author of the paper, "We are on the cusp of a complete reversal. Labor will be in increasingly short supply. Companies have been making pots of money, but life isn't going to be so cozy for them anymore.”

This study sounds all well and good except for one minor detail not taken into consideration — robots. From store clerks to pharmacists, robots are increasingly taking over both low- and high-skill labor. It’s even been predicted that robots will soon put 47 percent of all labor at risk in the United States.  

"We are on the cusp of a complete reversal."

Given the rising costs of education and training, these predictions are enough to induce a panic attack. However, some experts argue that all these automated technologies will actually create new jobs and new markets. Medicine, for example, might actually become more human again because doctors won’t be tasked with the cognitive demand of managing patient data.

There’s no clear takeaway about the future of human economic capital, but if the population of people is shrinking while the number of robots is rising, the reality may be that very soon they will outnumber us all. And if that happens, we will definitely need jobs to train robots to be compassionate toward us.

At the moment, the real threat to our jobs isn't offshoring; it's robotic automation, says Dr. James Manyika, member of the White House Global Development Council.


Natalie Shoemaker has been writing professionally for 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less