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Economists have finally figured out a decades-long mystery: Why men are increasingly foregoing work

It’s a question that’s puzzled economists for decades: why have men been increasingly missing from the labor market since the 1960s? 

The answer — at least partly — is that more millennial men are going to college than baby boomers. And new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that as these younger men graduate, they’ll increasingly enter the workforce and the decline in participation should slow. 

The share of younger millennial men not working is about twice that of boomers at the same age, according to the report published Tuesday, but the gap closes substantially as they approach middle age. A greater share of young men today have a post-secondary degree, signaling that as they age, they’ll enter the work force.

While men generally participate in the workforce more than women, trends for the two groups have diverged: Women are surging into jobs while for men aged 25 to 54 years old, participation’s fallen more than eight percentage points in the past six decades. 

“As these younger generations age and make up more of the prime-age population, this may” increase participation rates and help economic growth, researchers including Leila Bengali, Evgeniya Duzhak and Cindy Zhao wrote in the report.

Many other factors are also at play for men choosing to sit out of the jobs market, including disability or illness. Care-taking is also a growing factor, amid shifts in childcare responsibilities and an aging population, according to the analysts.

The authors used the government’s Current Population Survey data from 1976 through 2022 to compare men’s workforce participation among millennials, Gen X, baby boomers and the Silent Generation.

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