The Weeds: how video games could be influencing young men to quit the workforce

The percentage of men in their prime working years who are neither working nor looking for work has gone up by 2.3 percent in the past 10 years. Could video games be the culprit?

On the July 4 episode of The Weeds, Vox’s Ezra Klein, Dara Lind, and Dylan Matthews discuss new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that blames the decline in workforce participation by younger men on the innovation of video games. (Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote about this study as well.)

In the episode, Ezra says that although the study claims this trend has happened, he thinks the trend is still happening, and that “we are going to hit a point where VR is going to get so good and the cost of doing a low-wage job that you don’t really enjoy is going to get reasonably high and people on basic incomes are going to want to hang out in their VR world.”

Dylan talks about what makes video games so uniquely compelling. “There really is a difference between spending a lot of time on a video game and spending a lot of time watching TV,” he says. “It’s less passive, it’s more involving, it’s more intellectually stimulating, and that it provides some meaning and spiritual comfort in a way which sounds weird until you play one of these big games.”

The episode also features a discussion of the parts of Trump’s travel ban that the Supreme Court recently allowed to take effect, including the confusion concerning what exactly counts as a “bona fide relationship” with someone or something in the US — which is now required for immigrants from six blacklisted countries as well as all refugees. Later in the episode, Ezra wonders if the definition of “Trumpism” has changed since the campaign, and who still really follows and believes in its ideology. It seems, Ezra says, that Trumpism is dead, and not even Donald Trump himself cares.

You can listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the show on iTunes here.

Here’s Dara and Ezra on how the video game trend may change the conventional life path of men in the US:

DARA: There’s a certain extent to which even if this particular paper is not correct, the trends it is identifying seem plausible enough and are a robust enough model that it’ll become true eventually. The question of what does it mean, and what do we do if this is true now — or if it’s true in the future — is basically the question of what do we do when there’s a large population of people who are not working, and are we okay with that?

We tend to have this debate when we talk about, you know, welfare reform. Right? The purpose of a lot of conservative social economic programs is to make sure that people are not okay with not working. But on the other end of the income distribution, or at least the class distribution, you know, there’s very little talk of making the estate tax more robust because some people who have inherited a lot of wealth might not be inclined to work.

So the problems that we’re seeing with this video game thing and the reasons that I think it’s being tied to the idea of a universal basic income is that we’re now seeing, “Oh, my gosh, this is a social problem that cannot be abstracted to be a class problem. It’s a broader thing.” And are we okay with a society in which someone can be satisfied with their lot in life without going the conventional bourgeois route of work, marriage, homeowning, childbearing?

EZRA: Right, an interesting piece of that in this paper is it shows these young men — they’re not unhappy. They’re actually happier than their predecessors were. Now, I think it even says there’s some evidence of this, although I didn’t think there was that much actually named, you know, but there’s a totally plausible concern that they’re going to be really unhappy when they’re 37 and don’t have good labor market skills and haven’t married because they’re not very marriageable and so on and so forth.

You can read that different ways, right? I mean, we will in some ways just have to see how that plays out. You could imagine that as having the sort of knocked-up progression where people at some point realize that’s going on and look around like, “Oh, no I actually have to get a job.”

Show notes: