Youth and Non-Work

Tyler Cowen writes,

For Americans aged 16 to 24 who aren’t enrolled in school, the employment picture is grim. Only 36 percent are working full time, down 10 percentage points from 2007. Longer term, the overall labor-force participation rate for that age group has dropped 20 percentage points for men and 14 points for women since 1989.

…If we consider four-year college graduates only, average starting salaries, inflation-adjusted, were higher in 2000 than they are today

Some hypotheses:

1. We now have many college graduates who could not actually graduate in a rigorous major.

2. The young people I know who are not working full time have all formerly had full-time jobs, so that they are showing a lifestyle preference. I am admittedly looking at a small sample, not necessarily representative.

3. Young people who are not interested in having children do not feel compelled to work full time. Again, my evidence is anecdotal, but it seems to me that compared to when I was their age, there are a lot more young people these days who do not seem at all interested in having children. Admittedly, there could be causality running from weak job prospects to less interest in having children.

Overall, I see this as part of the Vicky-Thete polarization trend. If you do not have Vicky values, there may not be a compelling reason to work full time.

3 thoughts on “Youth and Non-Work

  1. Your analysis is insightful and enticing. If it is really about Vicky vs. Thete culture, though, what are the Thetes going to college in the first place? Doesn’t that seem like the Vicky thing to do?

    • Some possible answers (not necessarily mine):

      1) Outside encouragement through gov’t student loans, etc.

      2) Imitation. Going for the signals of Vicky-ness (a degree) rather than a substance. Kind of like how rich people’s naming trends filter to other folks over time.

      3) Reverse causality. Thinking that college made people successful, when, in fact, successful people are more likely to have succesful parents who were able to afford college before the GI Bill. This is a ‘tried to have Vicky values, got smacked by reality, now I’m making the best of it via Thete behavior’

      4) College at Oxford is about Vicky values, college at [party school] is about Thete values (sex and alcohol)

  2. Might a preference for leisure not be observationally equivalent to being less productive? Either way, the optimal decision is to enjoy more leisure.

    I think the key is to compare young adults with student loans versus young adults without. If you have to pay back $50K with interest, you should start working right away, even in a mediocre job. If those with debt tend to work, then work is available, and the decision not to work is a preference for leisure. But if those with a lot of debt are not working, I assume this means they are looking for work and failing to get it. This leaves the possibility that there are few jobs for them, or that they are willing but not qualified (“fake” majors and all that)