ZMP and Gender

Nicholas Eberstadt writes,

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)

Some comments

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.

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6 Responses to ZMP and Gender

  1. kebko says:

    There are still plenty of demographic explanations. Within that age group, there are more 25-30 year olds who are still not fully in the work force compared to 30 years ago. And the boomer phenomenon means there are an unusually large number 50+ year olds, who have lower participation than 30 year olds. I agree that there are AD issues, but I think the weight of evidence should lead us to presume that, at least as of 2006, demographics explained the entire decline, and that lfp might have even been at an unsustainably cyclical level at the time.

  2. Peter Schaeffer says:

    “It is not clear what the possibilities are for raising the skills of males displaced by these phenomena.”

    How about just closing the border and ending mass unskilled immigration?

    Worked rather well 100 years ago.

  3. one of the dudes says:

    What would be a rational way to organize a Vickies/thetes society? Scandinavian social welfare model? Would it only work in homogenous (like the Nordics) societies where afection for your countrymen is high? Would it only work in closed economies? Is so, what will open economy heterogenous societies evolve into (devolve?)?

  4. Dan King says:

    I think there may be a more biological explanation for this. While there is no such thing as a “woman’s job” or a “man’s job,” I think one can argue that a gendered division of labor is a human instinct. It also makes sense–there is no reason for men to duplicate women’s work, or vice versa. So in the recent past men worked, while women stayed at home. Now that women are entering the workforce, men are leaving–though what they do instead remains to be seen.

    I blog about this and other topics on my own blog:

    My most recent post is about immigration, where I support the recent effort for immigration reform. Thus I take issue with Mr. Schaeffer’s comment, above.

  5. Vernunft says:

    Gender? Looks like sex.

  6. Larry Siegel says:

    If machines have made people with, say, IQs below 90 cost-inefficient to hire, and if men have the same average IQ as women but a higher standard deviation around the average, then…you get the result that was observed.

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