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Video Games Don't Explain Declining Youth Labor Force Participation
A September 2017 paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) highlighted the declining labor force participation rate in young men alongside the rise in hours spent playing video games. The paper predicted a decline of 1.5 to 3 percent of working hours solely as a result of video games since 2004 and that it wasn’t related to a lack of labor demand as previously shown in other papers.
Instead it was the “sharp divergence in work hours between younger and older men that started in the mid-2000s” that posits video games as the likely culprit. Essentially, the quality of video games were just so enticing that they drove young men away from even looking for jobs.
Yet, 1.5 to 3 percent is not much. From 2000 to 2016, the participation rate for 20 to 24-year olds went from 82 percent to 73 percent.
The paper’s correlation between longer hours spent playing video games and fewer working hours can easily be reversed; more hours unemployed can easily lead to more hours playing video games rather than the other way around.
But the decline in labor force participation also applies to women as well as men. Women are not known to play video games at anywhere near the same rate as men, yet younger women have seen a significant decline in labor force participation at the same time as young men.
Growing Gap By Age For Women as Well
The spread between younger and older cohorts, 20-24 years old versus 35-44 years old, has grown similarly for women since 2000. What was once a 4 to 5 percentage point difference is now around 7.5 percent.
The spread is not as large as it is for men, which went from a 10 percent difference to 17.5 percent. That’s because women’s labor force participation rate is consistently lower in general. Not as many women are in the labor force. But on a relative scale, the spread has grown more for women—84 percent vs 66 percent.
Return of the Teen Workforce
Another cohort who might ostensibly be distracted by video games and avoid labor force participation are teenagers—those ages 16 to 19.
And while that age group saw a large downward swing in employment and labor participation from 2000 to 2010, since then both metrics have rebounded despite new advancements in video game technology.
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