Economic study links video games to US labour decline

Ben Parfitt
Economic study links video games to US labour decline

A new working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research has posited that the popularity of video games is playing a part in reducing the overall contribution of young men in the American workforce.

The New York Times reports that in 2015 American men aged between 31-55 worked around 163 fewer hours a year than the same demographic did in 2000. Within the 21-30 age bracket that number grows to 203 fewer hours per year. The gap between hours worked by younger and older men grew by about 40 hours, too, which is roughly equal to a working week.

Now economists Erik Hurst, Mark Aguiar, Mark Bils and Kerwin Charles are suggesting that video games may have played a part in this. They estimate that since 2004 video games account for an approximate reduction of 15 to 30 hours over a year. They concluded this by looking firstly at how those who suddenly found themselves with extra time chose to use it, and then how those who used that time for gaming saw their work affected.

They found that between 2004 and 2015 leisure time within the sample group increased by around 2.3 hours a week. 60 per cent of that time was spent playing video games. By contrast, female leisure time grew by only 1.4 hours and hardly any of that was handed over to gaming.

The report also points out that 2004 coincides with the release of World of Warcraft.

Games provide a sense of waking in the morning with one goal: I'm trying to improve this skill, teammates are counting on me, and my online community is relying on me,” designer Jane McGonigal told the paper. There is a routine and daily progress that does a good job at replacing traditional work.”

Others point out that while TV shows end, many modern games are designed to offer an almost infinite reward loop.

Those who doubt the report highlight that there have not been similar labour reductions in other countries where games are equally popular, such as Japan.

We find that recreational computer activities in general, and video gaming especially, are strong leisure luxuries for younger men,” the report itself reads. We estimate that younger men respond to a one per cent increase in total leisure by increasing recreational computer time by 2.1 per cent.

For younger men recreational computer time increased by 45 per cent during the 2004-2015 period, while total leisure time increased by only four per cent. We estimate that technology growth for recreational computer activities, by increasing the marginal value of leisure, accounts for 20 to 40 per cent of the decline in market work for younger men during the 2000s. Our estimates suggest that technology growth for computer and gaming leisure can explain as much as three-quarters of that four per cent greater decline for younger men.”

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