In the early 1950s, practically all men in this age group [25 to 54] were either working or looking for work-fewer than 3 men out of every 100 were out of the labor force. By contrast, over 11 out of every 100 men of prime working age are completely out of the labor force today-one in nine, fully four times the fraction back in the early postwar era. This flight from work at prime working ages accounts for the vast majority of the 13 percentage point drop in employment ratios reported for this key demographic group over the past sixty years (i.e., 1953-2013)
1. If you look closely at Eberstadt’s charts, you can see that the decline in adult male employment was at least as large between 1999 and the present as it was from 1950 to 1999. In terms of the rate of change, the decline was gradual until recently, and then it accelerated. In addition, I believe it is the case that the growth in female employment slowed just as the decline in male employment accelerated.
2. If you want to tell a conventional macro story, you could attribute most of what has happened since 1999 to aggregate demand. On the other hand, I think pretty much everyone would agree that the from 1950-1999 we were seeing secular, structural changes that raise female employment and reduced male employment. It would be absurd to tell an aggregate demand story for this. Still, it is interesting that the drop in male employment is not steady, but instead consists of downward ratchets that occur during recessions, while during recoveries male employment levels off and even rises.
3. Continuing with the theme of conventional macro, you might say that what we have seen recently is another downward ratchet in male employment due to severe drops in aggregate demand. This is overlaid on a continuation of the secular decline.
4. The secular explanation would be that low-skilled men have faced increasing competition from capital and from foreign labor.
5. It is not clear what the possibilities are for raising the skills of males displaced by these phenomena.
6. Going forward, one plausible scenario is continued divergence between Vickies and thetes. We should perhaps be thinking more in terms of how to adapt to such an outcome, as opposed to making futile attempts to ward it off.