7 million men aged 25-54 in the USA are not working

What are they doing?

Volunteering? Worship? Care-work?

“Playing Call of Duty stoned”

They report 2000 hours a year of screen time (w/ pain meds)

This phenomenon is far less severe in Western Europe

wsj.com/podcasts/opini… ImageImage
Eberstadt argues that labour supply was suppressed by pandemic insurance

The unconditional $600 a week (and later ($300 a week) ‘unemployment’ benefit included 17 million people who were not technically unemployed

[Ofc others may think this benefited public health] Image
Returns to work increased when the $300-a-week pandemic unemployment benefits were shut off,

But have not returned to the 2015-19 trend Image
Eberstadt does not provide cross-country comparative data on pandemic unemployment insurance.

So I had a quick look.

instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/cor… Image
It’s older Americans (over 55) who have seriously dropped out of the labour force.

Perhaps they really enjoyed leisure and now think they can afford an early retirement. Image
Why is the USA an outlier?

The USA had near universal labour force participation in the 1960s, but now has the lowest in the OECD

[dotted black line] Image
It’s a puzzle!

Compared to Western Europe, the USA has strong labour demand, a flexible labour market, and a more limited welfare state!

So why are US men staying at home??? Image
In Europe, employees spend less time on the job and this has declined over time.

In the USA, average annual hours worked per worker has remained constant. You either work long hours or not at all.

Is dropping out seen as the only way to have fun? Image
In G-7 countries with lower annual work hours per worker, fewer men are absent from the labour force.

Eberstadt merely notes this correlation.

He does not test it causally. Image

I don’t think it’s so helpful to look at *average* annual hours per worker.

I’d like to know whether and why the specific kinds of men who have dropped out of the labour force feel that they cannot work part-time.

Why don’t they pursue European work-life balance?
Economists, please feel free to correct me and point to data that I’m missing.

I’d like to know why the USA is an outlier!

Eberstadt doesn’t explain it at all.
Married men raising a family work more

(Regardless of their education or ethnicity)

(It’s hard to know whether non-marriage is primarily a cause or effect of non-work) Image
If low marriage predicts non-work, you’d expect the US to have a low share of marriage.

So I just checked @OurWorldInData

US marriage rates are relatively high

But ofc we need to look at the distribution!

Is marriage low among poorer groups in Europe (as in the USA)? Image
Almost a THIRD of prime age US men not in the labour force reported taking illegal drugs (2004)

Compared to the working, married man, this is a totally different culture.. Image
Women typically do more care work than men

Some speculate that this is because they have more free time

But even when women are employed, they do a LOT more care work than men who are not in the labour force or unemployed Image
UBI was a popular idea a few years ago, as championed by Andrew Yang.

Some utopian idealists claimed it would enable people to volunteer and join community associations 🌸🕊☮️

The data is pretty clear that this is NOT what jobless men choose to do! Image
Some theorise that the downturn in male work rates reflects China low demand.

But there’s a gender twist!

Female work rates are unaffected by recessions! Image
[Based on my knowledge of the research on the USA, I think this is because marriage rates are low among working class Americans.

Couples have kids, but men leave

Women get lumbered with the responsibility, then continue to work as single mothers]
Forgive me for deviating from the book, but you know I’m a comparativist…

The USA has the highest rate of single-parent homes!


Idk if this is a cause or effect of the USA’s exceptionally high rate of male joblessness. Also pretty high in the UK. Image
Single parent households are highest in the US South

In some counties, single parents comprise 54%+ Image
Japan has maintained high rates of male employment

Eberstadt could have added that single mothers are virtually non-existent.

Only 2.3% of children born in Japan are born to unmarried mothers.

This may help explain why Japanese men still work - to provide for their families Image
[This book is GREAT but I find it sliiiiightly surprising that there are sooo many obvious connections to gender that are omitted!

Yo! Economists of male employment! Talk to gender scholars! They might know useful things! 😛]
Does male joblessness reflect supply or demand?

That’s the main question.

Eberstadt is pretty sure it’s a cultural aversion to work,

As indicated by native men’s far lower and falling LFP Image

I strongly recommend “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage”

It’s about why working class women want kids and would rather raise them alone than tolerate abusive/ disrespectful/ unkind/ non-committed fathers. Image
Eberstadt argues that US men’s cultural aversion to work partly has been facilitated by growing social insurance, including disability benefits

57% of US men not in the labour force receive disability benefits. Image
What’s going on?

Has there been an actual increase in US male disability?

Are disability payments stingier or narrower elsewhere in the OECD?

Quick check: the USA does not have an unusually high percentage of disability benefit recipients Image
When I look at OECD data on unemployment benefits, the USA does not seem unusually generous.

Maybe Eberstadt would say there’s a difference in definitions or scope.

But this should be discussed!! Image
Methodological meta-point:

I wish scholars of the USA would test their hypotheses through comparative research with the OECD!

You say it’s a problem of social insurance, well then compare & contrast!

To quote Fukuyama,

“He who only knows one country knows none” Image
In evaluating disability payments, Eberstadt says

Dont just include SSDI (the Social Security Disability Insurance), which in 2014 had 10m beneficiaries


Supplemental Security Insurance: 8m claimants

Veterans: 3.5m claimants

He thinks there are more. Image
To show that social security deters labour force participation, Eberstadt compares California and Texas.

Hispanic immigrants in California can more easily obtain welfare payments.

Their labour force participation is also lower in California Image
Surely the obvious label for non-working US men is

“Gaming Alone”

37% of jobless men are unmarried

But they’re not the poorest of the poor.

They’re much better off than single mothers.

They live with friends and relatives who help them get by. Image
That’s another gender element to this puzzle!

Eberstadt says US welfare is too generous

But how come single mothers’s LFP is so high?

Many are poor, get benefits, struggle to juggle care, yet continue to work at high rates.

Does it reflect benefit stinginess or what? Image
“Having a criminal record is a key missing piece in explaining why work rates and LFPRs have collapsed much more dramatically in America than other affluent Western societies”

- Eberstadt

[NB. his chapter on criminality provides zero data on other countries]
4 reasons to think incarcerations are to blame for blame joblessness:

1) The US has an unusually large population of ex/current felons (16m in 2004)

2) States with more felons have higher male joblessness Image
3) The probability of incarceration has massively increased

[Coinciding with rising male joblessness] Image
4a) Men with one or more incarceration are highly likely to be out of the labour force. Image
4b) Men with one or more incarceration are highly likely to be out of the labour force.

This holds for every ethnicity and educational background. Image
If rising convictions are a major cause of jobless, unmarried men,

I would be curious to know how this strong push for “law and order” relates to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Paging @AlthoffLukas

What’s the geography of this trend? ImageImage
Rising incarcerations could be an exogenous shock propelling male joblessness - argues Eberstadt.

Let me add,

We also know that incarcerations suppress marriage rates, which may in turn weaken responsibility and incentive to work

- see this paper👇

So if incarcerations are the big exogenous shock, affecting both marriages and joblessness,

I wonder if there’s subnational heterogeneity in incarcerations and the background historical political economy of those subnational differences?

Rid me of my ignorance if you know!


Over time, there is also a negative correlation between rising criminal convictions and falling male labour force participation

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/P… Bushway et al (2022) ImageImage
Now, is male joblessness really a problem?

Eberstadt notes:

- slower economic growth

- welfare dependence, budgetary pressures

- family breakdown

- very high poverty among children of single mothers

- social disengagement (or as I call it “Gaming Alone”)
What’s the solution?

First, I think we need a better, more comparative diagnosis of the problem!

I want to understand heterogeneity within the USA, the underlying political economy, and cross-country comparisons!

Those seem like big important unanswered questions to me!


Eberstadt suggests 3 solutions:

1) supporting business creation for job creation
2) a “work first” principle of social welfare
3) better re-entry policies for ex-felons
Sounds sensible!

Though I think this still omits many potential causes of jobless

1) By Eberstadt’s own data, there’s a X-country correlation between working hours & LFP.

Why isn’t a work-life balance possible in the USA?

Does it relate to health insurance?
(3) Better re-entry policies for ex-felons are of course valuable.

But that omits what he himself identifies as the underlying exogenous shock: rising incarcerations.

So I’d want to better understand its background historical political economy and subnational heterogeneity.
We really need a test of all these competing hypotheses..

As done by @kearney_melissa & @kgahome!

Contra Eberstardt, they emphasise LABOUR DEMAND

Less weight to SSDI & incarceration

nber.org/system/files/w… Image
“When Work Disappears” by @davidautor @ProfDavidDorn & @gordon_h_hanson provides strong evidence for this emphasis on labour demand:

Trade shocks reduce young adult males’ employment and earnings.

This leads to more unwed mothers and children in poor single parent families. Image
“The Impact of Economic Conditions on Participation in Disability Programs” shows that when labour demand is high, participation in disability programs falls.

This is consistent with an emphasis on labour demand. Image
Institutions matter.

Germany has seen a huge rise in robots but not job losses

Manufacturing is still very unionised, blue-collar wages are usually determined collectively with strong involvement of work councils.

Total employment remains high

cepr.org/voxeu/columns/… Image
Germany’s unemployment system also has different design.

🇩🇪’s “Kurzarbeit” pays businesses to retain employees. Workers also agreed to reduce their hours

Whereas in 🇺🇸 , many workers were simply cut loose

propublica.org/article/how-ge… Image

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More from @_alice_evans

Jan 26
Why is rap music so homophobic?

My theory 👇

Rap music is rooted in inner cities, where men form gangs to protect themselves from violence.

Inspired by this new theory paper 👇

Gay men are often seen as physically weak, so they are excluded & denigrated by male coalitions Image
Four key trends:

1) Men (not women) are chief perpetrators of homophobic slurs & attacks

2) Members of male coalitions (military, construction, contact sports) are very anti-gay

3) Homophobia is strongest against men (not women)

4) Effeminate gay men are especially attacked.
The authors note that although the Ancient Greeks permitted homosexuality, they neverless denigrated effeminate gays.

Being on the receiving end was shameful, since it indicated effeminacy and passivity.

“Real men” were perpetrators and protagonists.
Read 12 tweets
Jan 26
Are men more competitive?

Men compete for power, which has always increased their progeny & male allies

Women in top jobs may suffer marital problems & alienate other women

If women can share their prize, they are competitive! 🤯 pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pn… @Cassar_Ale @MaryRigdon Image
Women’s proclivity to compete depends on the prize.

If their kids stand to gain, women get competitive.

Evidence from 🇨🇳, by @Cassar_Ale, Wordofa, & Zhang Image
Gender gaps in competitiveness also vary by culture.

Among the patriarchal Masai, where women typically have low authority, men are far more competitive.

But among the matrilineal Khasi in Meghalaya, women are actually more competitive! Image
Read 20 tweets
Jan 26
Excellent Rwandan proverbs, courtesy of ChatGPT 👇
Are these accurate?

Well, I also tested ChatGPT for Bemba proverbs and it passed my test as it included my favourite:

“Umunwe umo tausala inda” - one finger cannot remove a louse, we have to work together 😀
Now I’m more confident in ChatGPT’s knowledge of African proverbs, I started asking it for proverbs about women

Might Rwandan proverbs help teach us about the gender relations historically?

Curiously these all highlight women’s skills, value and assertiveness.
Read 17 tweets
Jan 26
Since the 1970s, some Western feminists have claimed that patriarchy began with states.

If we look at the data, we see that war-torn weak states have high rates of physical & sexual violence.

Rule of law, trust & cooperation are under-estimated precursors to gender equality.
Here’s an important distinction which is generally overlooked

*IN THE PAST*, there were plenty of violent & patriarchal states, eg Babylonia and Ancient Greece.

States built armies, raided other communities for slaves, and spread male-dominated religions that denigrated women.
And there was plenty of heterogeneity between states:

Some states were very patriarchal (like Song China, Babylonia, Ancient Greece, Colonial Massachusetts)

Other states were less so (Southern Mesopotamia before the 2nd millennium, Etruria, Minoa).
Read 7 tweets
Jan 25
Are women inherently jealous, prone to gossip & uncomfortable with strong women?

Or does this vary by culture?

In this podcast, @TaniaArline & @ChrisWillx discuss sexual competition.

I’d really like to see it tested in diverse contexts, like matrilineal Africa & Southeast Asia
Female representation is far higher in countries where women have joined forces to mobilise for gender quotas.

This has been well-established by political scientists.

But what enables strong women’s movements?

How do women come together in solidarity?
Studying the global history of gender, I see 3 important catalysts:

- Women’s paid work in the public sphere
- Democracy, a culture of resistance
- Trust between compatriots; weak ethnic/ religious divisions.
Read 5 tweets
Jan 25
“Flowers” broke Spotify’s one-week record, with 100m streams

On social media, women have also shared many creative versions, collectively celebrating & communicating their capacity to give themselves pleasure.

The feminist potential of Tiktok, Instagram & Youtube!
I previously overlooked the cultural power of music to shape people’s sense of respectability and righteous resistance.

Now this song has become hugely popular,

It rejoices in women’s ability to enjoy life without feeling needy.
In truth, there have been many feminist anthems..

“You Don’t Own Me” may be one of the earliest??

Read 5 tweets

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