Alice Evans Profile picture
Dec 15, 2022 52 tweets 19 min read Read on X
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… 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.… 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… 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… 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… 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… Image

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More from @_alice_evans

Feb 8
As I learn from diverse communities, I see many different aspects of patriarchy:

1) are men revered as leaders?
2) do parents treasure sons?
3) are women expected to serve?

4) are women kept away from unrelated men?

5) is it bad to openly criticise?

All vary by culture 🧶
1-3 were fairly typical worldwide.

Parents invested more in sons, who were revered as high status, while women did low-status work, serving men.

These are all beliefs and practices about *status*.
4) is different.

This is a major cultural impediment to female labour force participation.

Societies who idealise female seclusion impose tight restrictions in order to maintain men’s honour.

In Pakistan, women only comprise 28% of garment workers.
Read 5 tweets
Feb 6
Confucius thought that the wise & virtuous should rule.

They blew like the wind, while the commoners bent like grass.

Imperial China was thus extremely hierarchical..

However… Image
Confucius also championed a meritocracy.

Men were not born equal in intelligence or capacity.

Education and exams were important, so that the meritocratic few could rise to the top. Image
Hierarchy was ordained,

The rulers were better than the ruled.

However, status should be determined by achievement and virtue! Image
Read 24 tweets
Feb 6
Only 3% of South Koreans said that family was a major source of meaning.

No wonder their birth rate is so low!!

I think part of this is that over the 20th century they worked insanely long hours, in order to match western productivity, and this may have broken family bonds. Image
Only 1% of Taiwanese emphasised romance.

This tracks. I went to one mall and one supermarket today, there are no valentines.

But there are thousands of celebrations of money Image
Only 3% of South Koreans mentioned friends and community as offering meaning…

Ironically, the most collectivist culture now appears the most individualist?? Image
Read 10 tweets
Feb 4
“Bukkeureoum” is a Korean term meaning distressing awareness of other people observing your impropriety.

Other words for similar feelings are changpiham, minmangham, jjokpallim, and ssukseureoum.

It’s all about distress of public exposure of one’s failings.
Cc @ThomasTalhelm Image
There are 3 sub-categories of shame:

(1) “Bukkeureoum” and “changpiham” are about the horror of one’s private self being exposed publicly
(2) “Guryok”, “chiyok”, and “suchi” are about humiliating harms to one person’s reputation.

“Guryogeul gapda” is a popular phrase, meaning to repay one’s humiliation.
Read 6 tweets
Feb 4
Only 44% of South Koreans say society should accept homosexuality.

It may be one of the most conservative wealthy countries

Latin Americans may be poorer, but they are much more liberal…
Generational change is enormous, however.

79% of young South Koreans support homosexuality.

A huge leap in acceptance!

[This is fascinating; it tracks SK’s rising feminist movement] Image
Religious people tend to be more opposed to homosexuality.

Non-religious Koreans are much much more likely to say that homosexuality should be supported.

[Obviously it’s hard to know the exact causal mechanisms] Image
Read 9 tweets
Feb 3
Double gourd-shaped hangings, with character for good fortune.

Qialong period (1736-1795)

In 1746, the Qianglong emperor commissioned 62 hanging like this for the Lunar New Year celebration.

This, I believe, is a widely overlooked aspect of Chinese culture
This is a screen displayed during lunar New Year, in front of an entrance for feng shui

Note the “red packets” of money for younger relatives, symbolising abundance, peace & longevity.

Qianlong period.

A vase symbolises peace (it’s a homophone) Image
120 seals gifted to the Qianlong emperor, for his 80th birthday,

120 auspicious characters contain the phrase for longevity (shou)

Hoping he lived till 120 Image
Read 6 tweets

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