The Problem with Blaming Men for Not Working: A Comparison of Labor Market Outcomes for Men and Women

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Researchers, partially in response to the slow labor market recovery from the Great Recession and the 2016 presidential election in the United States, are interested in why men, and particularly men without a college education, aren’t as likely to be working. Some explanations point to survey data on how leisure time is used to argue that men aren’t working because they would rather do something else (such as play video games, or engage in other online leisure activities ). Other research points to how increasing opioid usage is causing men to be unable to work. One problem with these explanations is that within specific age and education groups, changes to women’s employment outcomes are often actually worse than men’s. That is, the “problem with men” is not specific to men. This short paper compares changes since 1990 to men’s and women’s employment rates (also called the employment-population ratio) for three age subgroups of men and women without a college education. Changes to the employed share of each group show up in the group’s employment rate, therefore discussion focuses on explanations for similarities and differences in trends in men’s and women’s employment rates since 2000. According to the latest available microdata — the September 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS) — roughly 45 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 (sometimes referred to as “prime-age”) report a high school diploma or less as their highest level of educational attainment (35.7 percent of the age 25 to 54 population). Of this group, slightly more than half, or 54.2 percent, are men. The prime-age group is divided into ten-year age subgroups (25–34, 35–44, and 45–54) to reduce the effect of demographic trends on employment rate data.
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    The Problem with Blaming Men for Not Working: A Comparison of Labor Market Outcomes for Men and Women   By Brian Dew* November 2017   Center for Economic and Policy Research 1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 400 Washington, DC 20009 tel: 202-293-5380 fax: 202-588-1356 http://cepr.net   *   Brian Dew is a Research Assistant at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). CEPR CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH  Contents Introduction ........................................................................................................................................................ 3    Women’s Labor Market Outcomes Aren’t Any Better than Men’s ........................................................... 3   Explanations for Trends since 2000................................................................................................................ 7    A Shift Towards Educational Attainment .................................................................................................... 10    Acknowledgements   The author thanks Dean Baker, Alan Barber, Kevin Cashman, Karen Conner, John Schmitt, Daniella Zessoules.      Introduction Researchers, partially in response to the slow labor market recovery from the Great Recession and the 2016 presidential election in the United States, are interested in why men, and particularly men without a college education, aren’t as likely to be working. Some explanations point to survey data on how leisure time is used to argue that men aren’t working because they would rather do something else (such as play video games, or engage in other online leisure activities 1  ). Other research points to how increasing opioid usage is causing men to be unable to work. 2  One problem with these explanations is that within specific age and education groups, changes to women’s employment outcomes are often actually worse than men’s. That is, the “problem with men” is not specific to men.  This short paper compares changes since 1990 to men’s and women’s employment rates (also called the employment-population ratio) 3  for three age subgroups of men and women without a college education. Changes to the employed share of each group show up in the group’s employment rate, therefore discussion focuses on explanations for similarities and differences in trends in men’s and  women’s employment rates since 2000. According to the latest available microdata — the September 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS) — roughly 45 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 (sometimes referred to as “prime-age”) report a high school diploma or less as their highest level of educational attainment (35.7 percent of the age 25 to 54 population). Of this group, slightly more than half, or 54.2 percent, are men. The prime-age group is divided into ten-year age subgroups (25– 34, 35–44, and 45–54) to reduce the effect of demographic trends on employment rate data. Women’s Labor Market Outcomes Aren’t Any Better than Men’s In the period since 1990, the employment rate for men aged 25 to 34 with a high school or less than high school education peaked in 2000 at 87.4 percent. In the fallout from the recession of 2001, the employment rate for this group fell by 4.6 percentage points and, by the start of the next downturn in 1 See, for example, Aguiar et al (2017) and Cowen and Smith (2016). 2 Krueger (2017). 3 Unlike the employment rate, the labor force participation rate includes people who are unemployed and actively looking for work. Over time, the labor force participation rate is influenced by the availability and quality of unemployment benefits. When these benefits are more generous, workers are more likely to take steps to meet criteria for being considered unemployed, which enables them to receive benefits. The employment rate, which considers only the number of employed persons as a share of the total population, is not affected by changes to unemployment insurance, and therefore provides a less-biased measure of changes labor market outcomes.  The Problem with Blaming Men for Not Working: A Comparison of Labor Market Outcomes for Men and Women 3   2007, had only recovered by 1.5 percentage points. The Great Recession then resulted in a steep drop in employment rates, which reached a low of 73.6 percent in 2010. Since 2010, the employment rate for the group has recovered by 5.3 percentage points, but the rate currently remains 8.5 percentage points below the 2000 level. 4  (See Figure 1 .) FIGURE 1 Employment Rate Trends, Age 25 to 34, High School Diploma or Less Source and notes: CEPR Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group (CPS ORG). Shaded bars represent recessions.   Women with a high school or less than high school education in the same age group (25–34) have not fared much better over this period. The employment rate for this group of women also peaked in 2000, at 63.9 percent; however, it was more deeply affected by the 2001 recession and, unlike the rate for their male counterparts who are three times as likely as the general population to work in the construction industry, recovered very little during the housing bubble that preceded the Great Recession. By 2013, the group’s employment rate had fallen to 52.6 percent, a lower level than at any other point for which comparable data are available (1979–present). Since 2013, the group employment rate has recovered by only 4.2 percentage points and remains 7.1 percentage points below its 2000 peak.  Among men aged 35 to 44 with a high school education or less, the employment rate remained below its 1990 level during both the strong labor market of the late 1990s and the construction bubble from 2004 to 2007. Like the younger cohort, the employment rate for this group fell sharply during the Great Recession, reaching a series low of 77.3 percent in 2010. The total fall in the employment rate from 2000 to 2010 was 8.2 percentage points. Since the 2010 low, the employment rate has improved considerably, increasing by 4.9 percentage points. (See Figure 2 .) 4 The 2017 value is preliminary and calculated as the average of available monthly data for January through September. 87.473.678.963.952.656.850607080901990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015    P  e  r  c  e  n  t  a  g  e   E  m  p   l  o  y  e   d WomenMen  The Problem with Blaming Men for Not Working: A Comparison of Labor Market Outcomes for Men and Women 4
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