In the 1950’s, 97% of men in the prime employment age group of 25 to 54 were either working or actively looking for work. That figure began to decline in the early 1960’s and has now fallen to 88%. Given that there are approximately 65 million men in this age cohort, approximately six million men have disappeared from the labor force!
During the pandemic, labor force participation rates fell for both genders and most age groups, but the percentage of women working has returned to near pre-pandemic levels and the same is true of males 45-54. However, take a look at participation rates for males aged 35-44:
There are a variety of theories regarding the failure of men in this age group to return to the labor force. Some may be discouraged because they were severely impacted early in their careers by the Great Financial Crisis of 2009 only to again be hammered by Covid-19. Some men have assumed childcare responsibilities while others may not feel the need to work given the decline of the nuclear family. Others may be interested in more flexibility and the ability to work from home which limits their options somewhat. Opioid addiction and criminal records may also be at play.
However, the most important variable seems to be education as depicted below:
Men without degrees have been disproportionately impacted by repeated crises, globalization, and automation. While this analysis covers a short period, it confirms the conclusions of a white paper I wrote several years ago titled Retraining the Workforce: A National Priority.