Great Stagnation or Great Vacation?
By Bryan Caplan
Keynesians have long mocked their critics as people who believe that the Great Depression was really a “Great Vacation.” Charles Murray’s new book makes a decent case that working class men have indeed taken a Great Vacation over the last couple of decades. He approvingly quotes Aguiar and Hurst: between 1985 and 2005…
[M]en who had not completed high school increased their leisure time by eight hours per week, while men who had completed college decreased their leisure time by six hours per week.
[T]he worst results were found among men without jobs. In 2003-5, men who were not employed spent less time on job search, education, and training, and doing useful things around the house than they had in 1985. They spent less time on civic and religious activities. They didn’t even spend their leisure time on active pastimes such as exercise, sports, hobbies, or reading… How did they spend that extra leisure time? Sleeping and watching television. The increase in television viewing was especially large – from 27.7 hours per week in 1985 to 36.7 hours in 2003-5…
To sum up: There is no evidence that men without jobs in the 2000s before the 2008 recession hit were trying hard to find work but failing.
Murray concludes that working class males have simply become less industrious. Quite plausible, though he neglects a strong alternative explanation. Namely: Female income has greatly increased, and men with low status jobs are “inferior goods” in the mating market. As a result, the demand to date and marry such men has sharply declined. The average guy with a low-status job is only modestly more dateable in women’s eyes than the average guy with no job at all. Men respond by either working much harder to become “superior goods,” or saying “Why bother?” and giving up. On this account, working class men are acting less industriously even though their preferences are no less industrious than they used to be.
What do you think?