Becker Friedman Institute

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Men without work: Why are they so unhappy in the US compared to other places?

The global economy is full of paradoxes. Despite progress in technology, reducing poverty, and increasing life expectancy, the poorest states lag behind, and there is increasing inequality and anomie in the wealthiest ones. A key driver of such unhappiness in advanced countries is the decline in the status and wages of low-skilled labor. A related feature is the increase in prime-aged males (and to a lesser extent women) simply dropping out of the labor force, particularly in the U.S. This same group is over-represented in the “deaths of despair.” There is frustration among this same cohort in Europe and it is reflected in voting trends in both contexts. Prime-aged males out of the labor force in the U.S. are the least hopeful and most stressed and angry compared to the same group in other regions, including the Middle East. Our aim is to better understand this cohort as part of a broader need to rethink our growth models and to explore policies that encourage the participation of able workers in the new global economy and can provide incentives for community involvement and other forms of engagement for those who can no longer work.

Authors: 
Sergio Pinto, University of Maryland
Carol Graham, The Brookings Institution
Publication Date: 
March, 2019
Publication Status: 
Document Number: 
2019-016
File Description: 
First version, March, 2019