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.
An obvious candidate for this decline in younger men’s hours is a decline in demand for
their labor, resulting in a corresponding reduction in their real wages. There is evidence that
declining demand for manufacturing and routine employment has contributed to a secular
decline in wages and employment rates for less educated workers.2 However, we show in
the next section that real wages of younger men have closely tracked those of their older
counterparts since 2000. This suggests that the greater decline in younger men’s hours is
not readily explained by a differential decline in labor demand for younger versus older men.3
We go in a different direction. We ask if innovations to leisure technology, specifically to
recreational computer and gaming, reduced the labor supply of younger men. Our focus is
propelled by the sharp changes we see in time use for young men during the 2000s. Comparing
data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) for recent years (2012-2015) to eight years
prior (2004-2007), we see that: (a) the drop in market hours for young men was mirrored
by a roughly equivalent increase in leisure hours, and (b) increased time spent in gaming
and computer leisure for younger men, 99 hours per year, comprises three quarters of that
increase in leisure. 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.
An elemental question is whether increased computer use and gaming contributed to the
Data, described fully below, are from the March CPS and exclude full time students.
See, for example, Autor et al. (2013), Charles et al. (forthcoming), and Charles et al. (2016).
In the next section we also discuss the possibility that younger men’s ”permanent-income wage” has
declined relative to their ”flow” wage because the return to their work experience has declined. Elsby and
Shapiro (2012) and Santos (forthcoming) stress this as a factor in hours supplied by younger men.