Why Are So Many Men Leaving the Workforce?
Last week, CNN featured a story called “Men are dropping out of the workforce. Here’s why” The article went on to tell us virtually nothing at all about why so many men are leaving the workforce. Although as many as seven million men have stayed out of the workforce for varying reasons, the CNN piece was really about how more women are joining the workforce, and how wonderful it is that more women are working in “male dominated” fields. The fact that more women are joining the workforce, however, tells us nothing about why men are leaving. Indeed, the CNN piece offered only one reason to answer why men are leaving the workforce: they’re becoming stay-at-home dads.
That category, however, is fairly small and numbers only in the hundreds of thousands. That leaves us wondering why millions of men have left the workforce for reasons other than raising children. If we look deeper into the available information on the question, the reality appears to be a lot less rosy than CNN’s suggested reason of “their wives are so doggone successful, these men decided to stay home and raise the kids.”
Instead, the reasons driving the lion’s share of missing men to leave the workforce appear to be illness, drug addiction, a perceived lack of well-paying jobs, government welfare, and the decline of marriage. None of these are reasons to celebrate, and few of these reasons lend themselves to any quick fixes through changes in law or policy.
At Least Six Million Missing Men
As I noted earlier this month, there are at least six million men of “prime age” (age 25-54) who are out of the workforce for various reasons. Historically, this number has been getting larger at a rate faster than growth of total men in that age group. That is, fewer than 3 percent of prime-age men were “not in the workforce” in the late 1970s, but 5.6 percent of men in this group were out of the labor force in 2022. That translates into approximately 7.1 million men according to the Census Bureau’s count of men “not in labor force.”
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We could contrast this with the proportion of women who are not in the labor force. Fewer prime-age women today are out of the labor force than was the case in the late 1970s. Women tend to remain out of the labor force in much larger numbers of men, so we find that in 2022, the total number of women out of the labor force is approximately 15 million. That number is smaller than what was common in the late 1970’s, however. As more women have joined the labor force over the past 40 years, more men have left.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Again, it is important to emphasize we are talking about prime age men here, and we’re excluding older and younger populations in which retirement and schooling remove large numbers of workers from the workforce.
Even including only prime age men, however, Alan B. Kreuger notes that the workforce trend in the US is headed downward faster than other wealthy countries:
Although the labor force participation rate of prime age men has trended down in the United States and other economically advanced countries for many decades, by international standards the labor force participation rate of prime age men in the United States is notably low.
Why Men Leave the Labor Force
Determining reasons for leaving the labor force is not easy, as the data depends heavily on surveys and on extrapolation. According to the census bureau, however, number less than 250,000 men in recent years are outside the labor force in order to care for children full time. This is only a tiny fraction of the total number of parents who leave the labor force to be stay-at-home parents. That leaves more than six million men who have left the labor force for some other reason.
Wages and Social Status
One thing is fairly clear: labor force participation is worse for men with less schooling. As Kreuger notes, labor force participation for prime age men has fallen for men at all education levels, “but by substantially more for those with a high school degree or less.” Indeed, labor force participation has barely fallen for men with advanced degrees, but has gone into steep decline among high school dropouts and those with no college.
Source: Ariel J. Binder and John Bound, “The Declining Labor Market Prospects of Less-Educated Men,” Journal
Article from LewRockwell