these young men today and their damn video games

much better than slinging subs part-time for an employer that requires a non-compete contract

much better than slinging subs part-time for an employer that requires a non-compete contract, I guess

This is hate-click-bait for some, I imagine. It sure as heck worked on me, which is probably why I can’t just let it go with a few snarky tweets and feel compelled to write a meandering blog post.

Anyway. According to a working study, which has not been peer-reviewed, some portion of young American men would rather spend more time playing video games than working.

From WonkBlog:

The researchers are not merely saying that young men, out of work, are turning to video games. They’re saying that increasingly sophisticated video games are luring young men away from the workforce. To determine this, the researchers analyzed changes in how people were allocating their time to leisure, and ran statistical tests that they say show that technological improvements are pushing people to spend much more time playing video games. That, in turn, is changing people’s trade-offs about when to work and when to play.

Just to be clear, as I understand the results reported, 22 percent of unemployed men without bachelor’s degrees between the ages of 21 and 30 now spend an average of 5.2 more hours per week playing video games than they did from 2004 to 2007. The total average hours per week spent playing is…a little over eight and half. To put this in another context all men in the survey aged 25-54 spent 32.55 hours a week engaged in leisure and sports activity. Also mentioned in WonkBlog’s story is that other research shows that this group has generally reported an increase in overall happiness.

Basically, on the margin of things, these researchers say that some fraction of some portion of unemployed young males are spending more time overall playing video games. The leap towards ‘games instead of work’ is about trade-offs where, again, on the margins, leisure activity here is presumably more valuable than work.

Okay. So what?

The piece is sprinkled with stories about young men living at home who spend way, way above the average amount of time playing video games. Perhaps this is the econ-wonk version of an irresistible cultural degradation observation. Non-educated male workforce participation is an oft-discussed segment in this sphere of research. Fair enough. Yet the implicit counter-factual is that, absent Call of Duty, these young men would be employed.

No. They would still be unemployed. Even if we experienced some massive collapse of interest in entertainment, and the needle on this group budged the slightest amount, they would be under-employed. This phenomenon isn’t really about video games, or computers, or the internet and memes and fail clips on YouTube.

This is about the economy (emphasis mine):

The response of the proponents of higher interest rates has been to attribute this drop to a problem with prime-age men rather than a lack of demand in the economy. For example, Tyler Cowen argued that less educated men were watching Internet porn and playing video games rather than working. The problem with this explanation is that the decline in EPOPs is comparable for non-college educated men and women. There is also a decline in EPOPs since 2000 for both college educated men and women, albeit a smaller one than for their less-educated counterparts.

Since there is a drop in prime-age EPOPs [employment to population ratio] for all groups, this would seem to suggest that the main problem is a lack of demand and not some new difficulty that some relatively narrow group of workers has in dealing with the labor market.

This is Cherrie Bucknor and Dean Baker arguing against a similar point raised earlier by Tyler Cowen, who dryly argued that the lack of wage acceleration among this group reflects their “quality.” Not the quality of job that Cowen thinks they should be trudging away at, of course, which is the type of work so piss-poor that it’s not even worth it to still be unable to afford to live independently. No, it’s definitely their fault. There’s something just, I don’t know, intrinsically wrong with them. Kids these days.

I guess the image of some dude in his parents house with a controller in his hand instead of a paycheck is too enticing for some folks to analyze why they’re in that situation in the first place. The unwillingness of policy makers to pursue full-employment in the economy has left many groups—not just young men—behind. Their future earnings, and thus standard of living, may well be less because they’re not in workforce now. But it won’t be because they logged in a few extra hours of Destiny. They don’t determine the economic policies that may bring later hardship. We should ‘get’ this and avoid the temptation to blame them for the consequences of other’s decisions.

As I wrote on Twitter, the world in which the pleasure of leisure genuinely decimates labor force participation is far better than the one we actually live in. This focus on young unemployed men living at home is, in some ways, an opaque vision of what this world might look like if we were allowed to choose leisure over work. Without the immediate threat of starvation or homelessness the meaningless drudgery of insignificant, thankless wage-work isn’t very appealing.

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One response to “these young men today and their damn video games

  1. Pingback: The continuing adventures of trying to explain why men are missing from the workforce | Punditocracy·

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