“Video games are addictive, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded,” Christopher said, a 22-year-old video gamer. “With a job, it’s always been up in the air with the amount of work I put in and the reward.”
Christopher represents a group of video-game-loving Americans who, according to new research, may help explain one of the most alarming aspects of the nation’s economic recovery: Even as the unemployment rate has fallen to low levels, an unusually large percentage of able-bodied men, particularly the young and less-educated, are either not working or not working full-time.
At the Center for Internet Addiction, our number one client is a male, living at home playing video games. They have either been kicked out of college, often several times, or they can’t hold a job because they are too preoccupied with playing video games.
Confirming this trend is new research by economists from Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago which shows that an additional reason many of these young men — who don’t have college degrees — are rejecting work is that they have a better alternative: living at home and enjoying video games. The decision may not even be completely conscious, but surveys suggest that young men are happier for it.
“Happiness has gone up for this group, despite employment percentages having fallen, and the percentage living with parents going up. And that’s different than for any other group,” says the University of Chicago’s Erik Hurst, an economist at the Booth School of Business who helped lead the research.
While young men might temporarily enjoy a life of leisure, the implications could be troubling for them as well as the economy. The young men aren’t gaining job experience that will better equip them to work in their 30s and 40s. That, in turn, could lead to a lifetime of decreased wages, limited opportunities and challenges such as depression and drug use — problems that the United States is already seeing in areas hit with heavy job losses.
From an addiction standpoint, this is troubling as a vibrant portion of the workforce doesn’t feel as much desire to work, this could harm the economy’s future and the ability of government to use policy to create jobs.
As of last year, 22 percent of men between the ages of 21 and 30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year — up from only 9.5 percent in 2000. Overall, only 88 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are working or looking for work, the third-lowest among 34 developed countries, according to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Young men without college degrees have replaced 75 percent of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer, mostly playing video games, according to the study, which is based on the Census Bureau’s time-use surveys. Before the recession, from 2004 to 2007, young, unemployed men without college degrees were spending 3.4 hours per week playing video games. By 2011 to 2014, that time had shot up to 8.6 hours per week on average.
More-educated young men have ratcheted up their gaming time, too — but this group has an easier time finding good jobs, and so their work hours haven’t fallen as much. The trends are different for women, who are much more likely to go back to school after leaving the labor force.
The researchers are not merely saying that young men, out of work, are turning to video games. They’re saying that increasingly sophisticated video games are luring young men away from the workforce.
Clinical data collected by the Center for Internet Addiction supports what economists are seeing is that people have switched so much time, more time than we would have predicted, to computers and video games. Alan Krueger, a former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the research presents “They find evidence that a portion … of the decrease in work time of less-educated young men can be a result of the appeal of video games.”
One reason young men are drawn to games is their extremely low cost, after the initial outlay for a computer or gaming system. Compounding the problem is that video gamers also suffer from other psychological problems such as depression or social anxiety, making these online games a social alternative to making real life friends. Cheap or free services such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and Netflix provide seemingly endless entertainment options and an easy connection to the outside world. Video games, in particular, provide a strong community and a sense of achievement that, for some, real-world jobs lack.
Also these young men are also helped out economically by living at home. For the first time since the 1930s, in fact, more U.S. men aged 18-34 are living with their parents than with romantic partners, according to the Pew Research Center.
The clinical implications for young males to adapt to these games as a way of life is disheartening as Internet Gaming Disorder rises across the United States. The economic implications are staggering as the gaming industry is growing rapidly adding new themes, content, graphics, and marketing while the American economy may suffer from troubling trend.