One thing’s for sure: America’s economy is changing. As manufacturing jobs move out of the country, young men without college educations are having more and more trouble finding work. If a new study is to be believed, one of the primary forces holding them back is video games.
What do video games have to do with unemployment? The new research conducted by economists from Princeton, the University of Chicago, and the University of Rochester, suggests video games are so enjoyable that many unemployed, able-bodied young men aren’t bothering to look for work at all. They’re happier living with their parents and spending their ample free time in front of a screen with a controller in their hands.
There’s plenty of data to back this up. According to the study, 22 percent of men between the ages of 21 and 30 without a bachelor’s degree reported they didn’t work at all during the previous year. That’s a big jump from 2000, when only 9.5 percent of men in the same situation reported not working.
Instead of working, these men now spend 75% of their “work time” on computers, mostly playing video games. On average, these unemployed men spend 8.6 hours per week in front of their video game screens. Flash back to the pre-recession years of 2004 through 2007, and men in similar situations spent just 3.4 hours per week on video games.
The time spent playing games has jumped an average of five hours. The exact reason for this leap is difficult to pin down, but the researchers think they have a good idea of what’s to blame.
The researchers ran statistical tests that suggest the increase in time spent gaming is due to the technological advancements that games have experienced between the pre-recession years and now.
Many of the most popular video games look better and tend to be more sophisticated now than they were a decade ago. Adding to the problem is that there’s a whole new class of games that are designed to absorb as much of a player’s time as possible. Games like Destiny, Dota 2, and Grand Theft Auto V can readily keep players entertained for hundreds, if not thousands, of hours.
Considering the immense popularity of these kinds of games, it’s no surprise people are pumping more time into video games these days, particularly if they have endless free time due to unemployment or under-employment.
We don’t tend to think of unemployed people as happy, but evidence suggests our impression may be wrong.
According to the General Social Survey, young men without bachelor’s degrees report higher levels of happiness now than they did in the early 2000s. Between 2001 and 2005, 81% of them said they were either “pretty happy” or “very happy.” Nowadays, 88% of the same group says they’re happy.
In other words, for this particular demographic, unemployment is going up right alongside happiness. Those statistics seem like they’d be at odds with one another, but the researchers think that all of that time spent gaming could be one of the reasons even unemployed men are happier.
A big problem
The apparent link between video games, happiness, and unemployment might sound silly, but it could result in heavy consequences. Since nearly a quarter of the country’s able-bodied young men without bachelor’s degrees are sitting out of the workforce, they’re not getting the skills and job experience they would if they were working. This will likely lead to lower lifetime wages once they do join the workforce.
And, for the men who don’t find jobs, their happiness could be fleeting. Older men without bachelor’s degrees are less happy now than they were 15 years ago. If that trend continues, we could be looking at a future with a lot of unhappy, unemployed men, which could lead to depression, drug abuse, and other related issues.
Video games can’t take the blame for all of that, of course, but if the research is to be believed, games certainly aren’t helping the problem.