As Video Games Get Better, Young Men Work Less and Play More
- December 20, 2017
- CBR - Economics
Even before the Great Recession, there was a downward trend in the number of hours American men were working, particularly young men. From 2000 to 2015, labor hours fell about 8 percent for men aged 31–55 and 12 percent for those aged 21–30.
Wages fell during this period, but falling pay is not necessarily the only thing that kept young men from working, research suggests. Rather, for some people, especially men in their 20s, an hour of free time became more valuable, according to research by Princeton’s Mark Aguiar, University of Rochester’s Mark Bils, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy’s Kerwin Kofi Charles, and Chicago Booth’s Erik Hurst. And a significant fraction of young men essentially decided to trade in a few work hours for a little more time on the Xbox.
“We can attribute the much greater increase in younger men’s computer time to a sizable improvement in technology for computer and video gaming,” they write. And unfortunately for these players, they weren’t making money from their gaming.
Some young men may have little at stake when trading work time for gaming. While few are benefiting from government aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, unemployment compensation, or disability payments, the research indicates that many are getting help from family to make ends meet. In 2000, about 46 percent of nonemployed young men lived with a parent or close relative. By 2015, the proportion increased to 67 percent.
One of the researchers, Erik Hurst, discussed preliminary findings of the research in a June 2016 commencement speech at Chicago Booth. (See “Video killed the radio star,” Fall 2016.) He voiced concern about what would happen as the young men who were substituting video games for work entered their 30s and 40s. “Playing video games does not put food on their tables,” he said. “It’s a bad combination: low labor demand plus the accumulated effects of low labor supply makes economic conditions for these aging workers pretty bleak.”
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