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Do Two Recent Trends Tell the Story of Today’s Young Men?

According to a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, young men today may be either dropping out of the workforce to play video games or turning to hours of game play because they cannot find work.

By Chris Queen

The report ties two trends together to create this hypothesis. The first trend is the decrease of working hours among men in their twenties:

Between 2000 and 2015, market hours worked fell by 203 hours per year (12 percent) for younger men ages 21-30, compared to a decline of 163 hours per year (8 percent) for men ages 31-55. These declines started prior to the Great Recession, accelerated sharply during the recession, and have rebounded only modestly since.1 We use a variety of data sources to document that the hours decline was particularly pronounced for younger men. These trends are robust to including schooling as a form of employment. Not only have hours fallen, but there is a large and growing segment of this population that appears detached from the labor market: 15 percent of younger men, excluding full-time students, worked zero weeks over the prior year as of 2016. The comparable number in 2000 was only 8 percent.

The second is the evidence that millennial men are spending an increasing amount of time playing games on computers and video consoles, more time than social interaction away from an electronic device:

Younger men increased their recreational computer use and video gaming by nearly 50 percent over this short period. Non-employed young men now average 520 hours a year in recreational computer time, sixty percent of that spent playing video games. This exceeds their time spent on home production or non-computer related socializing with friends.

The proliferation of games — through online services, rental outlets, and stores — in our culture suggests that it’s a hot industry, particularly for young guys. Watch a television commercial these days, and that’s all you see guys doing.

Now, the decline in young men in the workforce and the increase of time spent playing video games don’t automatically correlate, but the report’s theory may make some sense. Young men may have thrown in the towel when it comes to finding meaningful employment and turned to video games to pass the time. Or, they may spend so many hours playing games that they don’t have time to work.

Does the NBER hypothesis hold water? Are guys turning to video games while ignoring work or because they can’t find work? There’s no real way to know for sure, but the combination of these two trends is pretty alarming for a generation of young men in the prime of their lives.

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