If innovations in housework helped free women to enter the labor force in the 1960s and 1970s, could innovations in leisure — like League of Legends — be taking men out of the labor force today?
That's the logic behind a new working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper — by economists Erik Hurst, Mark Aguiar, Mark Bils and Kerwin Charles — argues that video games help explain why younger men are working fewer hours.
That claim got a lot of attention last year when the University of Chicago published a graduation speech given by Hurst at its business school, where he discussed some of his preliminary findings. He says the paper is now ready to be read by the public.
By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year. One puzzle is why the working hours for young men fell so much more than those of their older counterparts. The gap between the two groups grew by about 40 hours a year, or a full workweek on average.
Other experts have pointed to a host of reasons — globalization, technological change, the shift to service work — that employers may not be hiring young men. Instead of looking at why employers don't want young men, this group of economists considered a different question: Why don't young men want to work?
Hurst and his colleagues estimate that, since 2004, video games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year. Using the recession as a natural experiment, the authors studied how people who suddenly found themselves with extra time spent their leisure hours, then estimated how increases in video game time affected work.
Between 2004 and 2015, young men's leisure time grew by 2.3 hours a week. A majority of that increase — 60 percent — was spent playing video games, according to government time use surveys. In contrast, young women's leisure time grew by 1.4 hours a week. A negligible amount of that extra time was spent on video games. Likewise for older men and older women: Neither group reported having spent any meaningful extra free time playing video games.
The analysis excluded full-time students, and showed that the amount of time young men spent on household chores or child care was not going up.