Are Younger Men Dropping Out of the Labor Force to Play Video Games?

Younger men may be underrepresented in the labor force partly because video games have gotten way cooler.

A paper published at the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that men aged 21-30 are disproportionately falling out of the labor force compare to to men aged 31-55.  The data also shows that recreational computer use and video gaming have risen much more quickly in the younger group.


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 paper’s authors say that there is no significant difference in the demand for workers in the two age groups but over the time period of 2000 – 2015, the younger group’s gaming hours increased significantly.

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. Older prime age men and women allocate much less time to computer and gaming and displayed little upward trend in these activities.

One of the more troubling statistics in the paper shows a higher percentage of younger men who report working zero weeks in the previous year. Until around 2008 that figure was roughly the same for men aged 21-30 as for men aged 31-55. In 2008 that figure rose more sharply for the 21-30 age group and now tracks higher than for the 31-55 age group.

The cause and effect correlation isn’t clear to me, but if the data is correct we have two coinciding increases—one is the number of 20-30 year olds who are not in the workforce and the other is in the amount time the same group spends playing video games. The increased gaming could be how many choose to fill the time they are not working.

On the other hand video games can be a huge time suck. Everyone probably knows someone who is prone to marathon gaming sessions, especially when some new and more advanced system or individual game comes out. It is easy to believe that gaming adds to the procrastination factor. When they don’t think your chances of finding work are worth the effort, gaming may be the escape of choice for 21-30 year olds.


Either way this is a disturbing trend considering the amount of student debt many in this age group are carrying now.


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