The Free-Time Paradox: The rich were meant to have the most leisure time. The working poor were meant to have the least. The opposite is happening.

The Free-Time Paradox: The rich were meant to have the most leisure time. The working poor were meant to have the least. The opposite is happening. By Derek Thompson. The men that US society forgot:

In 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men [those without a college degree] aged 21 to 30 had not worked at all during the prior twelve months … Twentysomething male high-school grads used to be the most dependable working cohort in America. Today one in five are now essentially idle.

The employment rate of this group has fallen 10 percentage points just this century, and it has triggered a cultural, economic, and social decline. “These younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives,” he said.

So, what are are these young, non-working men doing with their time? Three quarters of their additional leisure time is spent with video games, Hurst’s research has shown. And these young men are happy  — or, at least, they self-report higher satisfaction than this age group used to, even when its employment rate was 10 percentage points higher.

So a sizable number of young man are happier playing video games than working and forming families, what with women-take-all divorce laws and so on. Video games keep getting better and better, jobs not so much, so it was bound to happen sooner or later. Wait ’til realistic sex robots come along!

It is a relief to know that one can be poor, young, and unemployed, and yet fairly content with life; indeed, one of the hallmarks of a decent society is that it can make even poverty bearable. But the long-term prospects of these men may be even bleaker than their present. As Hurst and others have emphasized, these young men have disconnected from both the labor market and the dating pool. They are on track to grow up without spouses, families, or a work history. They may grow up to be rudderless middle-aged men, hovering around the poverty line, trapped in the narcotic undertow of cheap entertainment while the labor market fails to present them with adequate working opportunities.

But their life of leisure contrasts with the hardest working — rich men.

Elite men in the U.S. are the world’s chief workaholics. They work longer hours than poorer men in the U.S. and rich men in other advanced countries. In the last generation, they have reduced their leisure time by more than any other demographic. As the economist Robert Frank wrote, “building wealth to them is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun.”

So why? This wasn’t the future expected a few decades ago as leisure became more prevalent:

[O]verall leisure has increased, but it’s the less-skilled poor who are soaking up all the free time, even though they would have the most to gain from working. Why? …

1. The availability of attractive work for poor men (especially black men) is falling, as the availability of cheap entertainment is rising. …

2. Social forces cultivate a conspicuous industriousness (even workaholism) among affluent college graduates. …

3. Thanks to smartphones and computers, leisure activity is leaking into work, and work, too, is leaking into leisure.

hat-tip Matthew