A small but significant number of men have dropped out of the workforce entirely to play video games

Twenty-two per cent of American men without college degrees have not worked at all in the last 12 months, according to The Economist, and a small but significant number may have dropped out of the workforce entirely and now spend their days playing video games.

That’s about 20 million unemployed US men, of which 7 million aren’t even looking for work, the New York Times reported last year.

Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, thinks a number of them are now playing video games full time, according to The Economist:

They are not leaving home; in 2015 more than 50% lived with a parent or close relative. Neither are they getting married. What they are doing, Hurst reckons, is playing video games. As the hours young men spent in work dropped in the 2000s, hours spent in leisure activities rose nearly one-for-one. Of the rise in leisure time, 75% was accounted for by video games. It looks as though some small but meaningful share of the young-adult population is delaying employment or cutting back hours in order to spend more time with their video game of choice.

Writer Ryan Avent paints a depressing picture of directionless men losing themselves in vast online worlds, using the games as a therapy for depression and way to avoid the real world, which doesn’t have jobs for them. Their wives and girlfriends hate it.

Decreasing participation of males in the workforce is a long-term, macroeconomic phenomenon that began when manufacturing industries in the West were supplanted by services, starting in the 1950s. This chart is from the economist Jared Bernstein (“EPOP” is the employment to population ratio):


The stats are even worse for younger men, the gamers: “Between 2000 and 2015, the employment rate for men in their 20s without a college education dropped ten percentage points, from 82% to 72%,” the Economist says.

It’s also worse in the US than Europe, according to data from Bernstein’s blog:


Until recently, economists thought that these unemployed men were mostly watching TV or using drugs. They’re not raising kids or doing housework, as far as economists can tell — men notoriously do less housework even when they are unemployed, data show.

Instead, young men are living with their parents, who take care of them, Hurst wrote in an article for the Chicago Booth Review:

If they are not working, where do these young, low-skilled men live? Our basements! According to recent data, 51 per cent of lower-skilled men in their 20s live with a parent or close relative. That number was only 35 per cent in 2000. In 2014, 70 per cent of lower-skilled men in their 20s without a job lived with a parent or close relative.

If they are not working, how do these young men eat? We — the parents and relatives — feed them. When they are in our basements, they come up for food from time to time and raid our refrigerators. I have no information on whether or not they are showering.

And their leisure time is increasingly taken up by games. US Bureau of Labour Statistics show that leisure time for low-skilled men in their 20s increased by 4 hours per week from the 2000s to 2015, Hurst believes.

“Of that four-hours-per-week increase in leisure, three of those hours were spent playing video games!” Hurst says. “The average young, lower-skilled, nonemployed man in 2014 spent about two hours per day on video games. That is the average. Twenty-five per cent reported playing at least three hours per day. About 10 per cent reported playing for six hours per day.”

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