US manufacturers have switched from labor-intensive production to capital-intensive production. Instead of hiring a worker for the assembly line, manufacturers now use machines to do the work. The new technology results in firms reducing their demand for lower-skilled labor. Lower-skilled workers are the ones being displaced by the increasing technology.
I am convinced that declining labor demand is part of the story for why employment rates for lower-skilled workers have fallen so sharply and persistently during the last 15 years. I am also confident that changing technology has played a role in this decline.
However, in my current research, I have been thinking about the role of technology on labor supply. This line of inquiry has received less attention from academics. Individuals make decisions about whether to work or not. Most people—including you . . . and me—do not like working for free. (I like to stress that point when talking in front of the deans.) That is why we have to pay people a wage to get them to work. When making our work decisions, we compare the benefit of work—the wage—against the cost of working. What is the cost of working? We give up leisure. The more attractive our leisure time, the less we’ll want to work, holding wages fixed.
Is it possible that technology has changed the value of leisure? I think the answer is a definite yes, and let me give you an example of how I am experiencing this firsthand. I have a 12-year-old son at home, and we ration video games for him. He is allowed a couple of hours of video-game time on the weekend, when homework is done. However, if it were up to him, I have no doubt he would play video games 23-and-a-half hours per day. He told me so. If we didn’t ration video games, I am not sure he would ever eat. I am positive he wouldn’t shower.
Certain technologies—such as video games and social media and the internet—have increased the value of leisure time. Not only do people report them as being more fun than watching TV or going to the movies, they also say they’re more interactive. When my son plays video games, he often does so with his friends who are sitting in their living rooms, in their homes, avoiding their showers to the extent possible.
Are my son and his friends outliers? Many parents here probably recognize this behavior. But let me give you a little bit more data. As much as we have talked about the decline in employment rates for lower-skilled individuals aged 21–55, it’s even larger for younger, low-skilled men. For low-skilled men in their 20s, employment rates have fallen by about 10 percentage points over the last 15 years—from 82 percent in 2000 to only 72 percent in 2015. This decline is staggering. You might think it’s matched by a rise in school attendance for this age group. That is not the case.
The following may be the most shocking number I give you today: in 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men aged 21–30 had not worked at all during the prior 12 months. Think about that for a second. Every time I see it, that number blows my mind. In 2000, the fraction of young, lower-skilled men that didn’t work at all during the prior year was a little under 10 percent. Men in their 20s historically are a group with a strong attachment to the labor force. The decline in employment rates for low-skilled men in their 20s was larger than it was for all other sex, age, and skill groups during this same time period.
You may have a few questions in the back of your mind. If they are not working, where do these young, low-skilled men live? Our basements! According to recent data, 51 percent of lower-skilled men in their 20s live with a parent or close relative. That number was only 35 percent in 2000. In 2014, 70 percent of lower-skilled men in their 20s without a job lived with a parent or close relative.
Part of my new research is documenting how these lower-skilled men who have left the labor force spend their nonworking time. Using time diaries put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I can do this. On average, lower-skilled men in their 20s increased “leisure time” by about four hours per week between the early 2000s and 2015. All of us face the same time endowment, so if leisure time is increasing, something else is decreasing. The decline in time spent working facilitated the increase in leisure time for lower-skilled men. The way I measure leisure time is pretty broad; it includes participating in hobbies and hanging out with friends, exercising and watching TV, sleeping, playing games, reading, and so on.
Of that four-hours-per-week increase in leisure, three of those hours were spent playing video games! The average young, lower-skilled, nonemployed man in 2014 spent about two hours per day on video games. That is the average. Twenty-five percent reported playing at least three hours per day. About 10 percent reported playing for six hours per day. The life of these nonworking, lower-skilled young men looks like what my son wishes his life was like now: not in school, not at work, and lots of video games.
How do we know technology is causing the decline in employment for these young men? As of now, I don’t know for sure. But there are suggestive signs in the data that these young, low-skilled men are making some choice to stay home. If we go to surveys that track subjective well-being—surveys that ask people to assess their overall level of happiness—lower-skilled young men in 2014 reported being much happier on average than did lower-skilled men in the early 2000s. This increase in happiness is despite their employment rate falling by 10 percentage points and the increased propensity to be living in their parents’ basement.
Here is an outlier; a researcher who suggests that it may not just be the loss of manufacturing jobs that has led to the low employment numbers for males in the mentioned socio-economic group. Rather, the total awesomeness of video games plays a large role. For video games are big budget productions now, with great graphics and gameplay that engross males.
So apparently young men are happy in the basement playing video games. I can see why articles like this are not published often; for if word got out that this is a path to happiness, then there might be more defections. Already there are enough of a group of MGTOW gamers to be of critical mass; and as such, much of the shame is gone. With an even larger group in the future, they may even be able to sell the concept that the idea is empowering (which is always a good thing, is it not?).
But are not the men supposed to be out working? Everybody knows that men exist to work. Well, video games are inexpensive in terms of dollars per hour. Women are much more expensive, so the men of old really did need to work hard to obtain them. Now, hordes of men realize that their 20’s are hopeless with respect to women, so why bother working hard?
Empowered to create their own fun; what could be better?