December 19, 2017
In a rare, serious column discussing various proposals to improve labor market outcomes, David Brooks makes the common “problem with men” mistake. The piece refers to men dropping out of the labor force at alarming rates and then endorses programs to induce men to get over cultural stereotypes and apply for jobs in fast-growing occupations dominated by women, like nursing and teaching.
Actually, the labor market experience of less-educated men has not been very different from the experience of less educated women, as was shown in a recent paper by Brian Dew. The employment rate for men between the ages of 25 and 34 with a high school degree or less is down by 8.2 percentage points from its peak in 1999. For women, it is down by 6.9 percentage points.
For less-educated workers between the ages of 35 and 44 the employment rate is down by 4.1 percentage points from a 1999 peak for men and 9.7 percentage points for women. For older prime-age workers (45 and 54) the employment rate is down 3.3 percentage points from a 2000 peak for men and by 6.7 percentage points for women.
The fact that there have been sharp declines in employment rates for both less-educated men and women indicates the problem is more likely a problem of weak demand than some gender-specific problem with men. Nonetheless, policies to overcome gender stereotypes are a good thing, as are policies to end sexual harassment and other factors that keep women out of many higher paying jobs.