The U.S. at an all time high in terms of the percentage of prime aged men 25-54 who are not in the workforce.
As the chart below from former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers' blog shows, this is not a new trend.
And Summers expects the trend not just to continue, but accelerate. Key quote from his article:
I expect that more than one-third of all men between 25 and 54 will be out work at mid-century. Very likely more than half of men will experience a year of non-work at least one year out of every five.
The reasons behind his forecast are technology replacing jobs in male dominated fields, declining marriage rates (married men are more likely to be in the workforce than unmarried men) and contagion. By this he means the more men who don't work leads to more men not working.
Because of this, he believes is rate of growth of non-working men is "likely to grow exponentially rather than at a linear rate" as is shown in the chart.
That men are struggling in work and society is not a new idea. Regular readers may remember our posts back in 2010 on "the end of men" (we also have one on the end of boys). And, of course, the 2012 book The End of Men popularized the term which has been used in academics since at least the late 1990s.
The noise around the end of men died down a bit after 2012, but has come back this year - primarily because of the strong male support for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
There a wide range of potential explanations for why prime age men are leaving the workforce. The recent book Men Without Work covers most of these.
But according to Princeton economist Alan Krueger, a large number of men have dropped out of the labor force due to serious physical and mental health conditions that are “a barrier to work”.
The study also found that younger men are increasingly choosing video games over work - and they're quite happy about their choice. Key quote from a Christian Science Monitor story on the study:
A recent unpublished study from researchers at Princeton University, the University of Rochester, and the University of Chicago found that more young men, particularly those who don't have college degrees, are living at home, working part-time or not at all, and regularly playing video games. But the prevalence of this lifestyle isn't due to a lack of jobs or difficult economy – rather, many young men are consciously choosing video games over work.
Happiness surveys actually indicate that they are quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games," researcher Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, said in a university interview.
So whether they're suffering or having fun playing video games, men simply aren't as likely to be in the workforce as in the past.
As we've pointed out in the past and Summers also mentions, this is a big societal issue. Our economic system is not designed for large numbers of prime age men (or women, for that matter) to be out of the workforce.