The Overinflated Narrative Of Middle-Aged Men Fleeing The Labor Market

Look deeper, Obi-Wan.

Ted Bauer

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You see stats like the above all the time, about middle-aged and older men fleeing the labor force. Here’s a new version of that same story. While it’s definitely true that some men have fled the labor force, you get into that link and you see this:

About 87 percent of men ages 35 to 44 were working as of October, down from 88.3 percent before the pandemic struck in 2020.

That’s not a huge drop, so I don’t think we can go and blame COVID immediately or anything.

A bit further down, there’s this:

Men have been withdrawing from the labor force for decades. In the years following World War II, more than 97 percent of men in their prime working years — defined by economists as ages 25 to 54 — were working or actively looking for work, according to federal data. But starting in the 1960s, that share began to fall, mirroring the decline in domestic manufacturing jobs.

Now, that’s a bigger drop, but it’s still not massive.

The generic reasons that everyone gives for this drop are:

  • We outsourced manufacturing jobs
  • We imprisoned a bunch of working-aged men
  • We had two drug crises (cocaine/crack and opioids)
  • Video games got better

The more progressive reasons we get for the drop are commonly:

  • Mr. Moms happen more
  • Shifting family dynamics
  • Shifting life priorities

Here’s a few things I’d add:

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Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.