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Why Are Men Disappearing From the Workforce?

Source: Jez Arnold.

The labor force participation rate moved up slightly in January, to 63% from an achingly low 62.8% in December. This metric has been sliding since the advent of the Great Recession, and though the uptick in the number of employed persons and those actively looking for work is welcome, the most recent ratio looks anemic compared to the 66.2% recorded in January 2008.

For male workers, the participation rate has suffered more acutely, dropping by 4.3 percentage points since early 2008, to its present 68.6%.

But the economic crisis isn't entirely to blame for the decreasing participation of the American man in the workforce. He has been dropping out at a consistent pace for decades, beginning shortly after World War II.

Source: St. Louis Fed.

A steady decline in working men
As this chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis clearly shows, men have been slowly, but surely, exiting the workforce since the late 1940s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participation rate of American men averaged 86.6% in 1948, and a measly 69.7% for 2013.

This trend has not gone unnoticed. A BLS report in 1997noted men were working much less than women, with workforce participation rates of 75% for the former and 60% for the latter. While women have also seen their rate of participation decline since the recession -- women averaged a rate of 59.5% for 2008, versus 57.2% for 2013 -- their rate has increased greatly since 1948, when the average labor participation rate for female workers was a paltry 32.7%.

What's going on?
Many have questioned why the population of male workers is in an unrelenting decline, and several theories have been floated. One scenario, of course, is the increasing number of womenentering the workforce. This doesn't explain the fact that women did not hit the 40% labor force participationrate until 1966, though, by which time men had already decreased their own rate of workplace participation by 6.2 percentage points from 1948. 

Another theory posits that men are falling behind women in the attainment of high school and college diplomas, thus relegating them to less lucrative occupations. There may be something to this theory.

Source: WHacko.

In 1977, the number of bachelor's degrees earned by women was less than that of men, who collected 494,000 diplomas compared to the 423,000 conferred upon women. This has changed, however: Men graduating with bachelor's degrees in 2011 numbered 734,000 while the women handily beat them by garnering almost 982,000 diplomas.

Other analysts feel the problem lies more with a lack of opportunities in the job market, combined with a general unwillingness of employers to hire new workers. This seems very plausible to me -- after all, both genders have suffered from a noticeable drop in labor force participation since the last recession. The trouble may lie less with workers, regardless of gender, and more with an economy still struggling to shake off the effects of a hard-hitting global downturn.

Part of this predicament is due to the stigma attached to the long-term unemployed, a population that is increasingly becoming marginalized when it comes to hiring. Hopefully, the attention being brought to the plight of these workers -- combined with a brightening economy -- will help both genders regain the employment-related losses they have endured over the past six years.

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Read/Post Comments (23) | Recommend This Article (4)

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  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 1:05 PM, g555jim wrote:

    amanda: the number one reason white males are disappearing from the work force is they are not being hired. I live in philadelphia, pa. in the northeast section which is approx. 70% white. Recently, i have noticed in the big chains (e.g) lowe's, home depot, etc. that most of the whites have been replaced by minorities; and even though some white females can be found, there are no white males. I went to Wills Eye Hospital last week (wills eye is one of the most recognizable vision hospitals in the country); i was on two floors; i saw white females, black females, asian females, and black males. That is on two of the five floors of a major urban hospital, there wasn't a single white male. i suspect either the government is strong-arming this or there are significant tax incentives for this. thank you

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 1:12 PM, JeanDavid wrote:

    If an employer can pay a woman 70% of what he can pay a man, why would he hire a man?

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 1:39 PM, ashleyb2007 wrote:

    If this is the percentage of men not being hired, then what's the percentage of women being hired?

    How can this be accurate?

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 1:45 PM, ObamaTheYahoo wrote:

    Just another stupid article meant to manipulate the sheep into thinking all is just swell with our economy. Pull a total Labor Force Participation Rate Chart and you will see it drop off significantly after the financial crash do 2007/08 and we are not recovering. Wake up America.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 2:01 PM, Dave5309 wrote:

    I have been out of the "labor force" since 2007. I find it amazing that anyone would waste 40hrs a week of their life working for someone else. Sad really. You spend all your time working for someone else to try to make the money you use to spend on things you only need because you are spending all your time working for someone else.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 2:05 PM, antipropaganda wrote:

    Amanda Alix doesn't tell the full story.

    While women have surpassed men in the number of bachelor degrees, men continue to earn bachelors in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) while women continue to go for degrees in arts and communications.

    Employers take this opportunity to hire women with degrees in any field even for STEM jobs, just to claim that they support the women workforce and replace men with H1B and L1 workers from India or other 3rd world countries with advanced degrees for the STEM jobs because they are way cheaper.

    I speak from experience, this is what's happening at the company I work for (fortune 100).

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 2:05 PM, dragonlots wrote:

    I can think of many reasons there are less men in the workforce.

    Let's start with those that have been lost due to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Gulf wars and our current military actions. Current figures show that the female population is slightly higher than the male. This is why.

    Dead beat dads/husbands. So their income isn't touched, many are becoming unemployed or self employed so they don't have to pay spousal or child support. Hard to force them to pay when they're not working or they can hide their cash income.

    Did they take into account the number of retirees? There are higher numbers of older white men than younger ones. Later generations had fewer children.

    I also agree that companies are just not hiring well educated white men. It's reverse discrimination.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 5:44 PM, G55 wrote:

    Because no one wants to hire white males - it's taboo and their are no bounties for white men. You get all sorts of attention if you hire educated white males. It's FAR better to be 'diverse' so we hire the ones that look good on our reports.

    I outta know, I've been doing this for years under the auspice of 'diversity' - hiring the uneducated over the educated just to meet quotas.

    Truth hurts.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 5:57 PM, Barmil wrote:

    Could it be that women are paid less than men?

    Women are less confrontational than men?

    Physical work is on the decline due to no manufacturing?

    Just so thoughts as to why men aren't working.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 7:07 PM, brwneyes99 wrote:

    For some reason, I do not recall the article mentioning race (ie white male). In this economy it is difficult for anyone to get a job. However, It is strange that a summer job a young male can get 10 years ago such as dishwasher or McDs he cannot get in today's environment. These job are going to other groups for whatever reasons and it is not because of pay. A person desperate for work will take the same pay as anyone else.

    The lack of jobs is a product of many factors but the most obvious is the increase population (due to immigration). Decrease in opportunities due to export of companies to other countries. This is a path that can only lead to one outcome....chaos

    The melting pot is becoming the boiling pot.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 8:21 PM, jimmyers1 wrote:

    g555jim, I am from NE philly also. Ever since I was young, you really didn't find grown white males at the type of sites you cited. You find exactly what you stated, but you will find young white males at these sites, usually fresh out of high school or attending college. A lot of white males without a college degree move on to the trade unions to make more money, especially in Philly.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 8:24 PM, fitness wrote:

    One of the reasons men are declining in the work place is the women being led by the idiot feminists. They are killing the "old" idea of men's responsibility of taking care of their family. You are doing it to yourselves Ladies. How many of you have married someone that is not as mature as you? Before the Feminists took hold, the Ladies would push and prod the boys to grow up, now the Ladies are so busy at being a feminist, the boys continue being boys and let the wife support them. I don't agree that it should happen, but it is.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 8:35 PM, Kim1234 wrote:

    One reason women are being hired more is that they are paid less. Often, this is because women still don't negotiate as hard as men. So, while men may negotiate higher salaries for themselves, many men end up losing to a woman who negotiates a lower salary for herself. So more women may end up employed, but with a lower salary.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 9:51 PM, RLLH wrote:

    Affirmative action.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 11:16 PM, rickshelton53 wrote:

    A man doesnt feel like a man if he cant find a job...And a real man will even work at walmart if nothing else is out there,,Even tho he might not like it..

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 9:20 AM, YoodenVranx wrote:

    Less Men in workforce since WW2. O.k., Doing your work for you, Very Motley Fool, here goes:-

    The wars killed a lot of Men.

    The wars injured a lot of Men.

    The wars affected a lot of Men.

    This is an article about American Men (but the numbers are probably also relevant elsewhere). The wars killed, injured and affected many more people than Americans. Many were helped by America after the war.

    During the war many women were trained to perform what had been reserved for men. This state of affairs did not swing back as far as it had come after the war finished.

    Those most directly affected by the war (mostly Men) were often the most likely to be discontent. Some worked harder than ever to build a new America, some wanted little to do with a society that still promoted conflicts such as the one they had just been in. Hell's angels groups stem from this era. War pensions were paid to those injured and widows, rather slowly sometimes but unignorably, more than ever before. That allowed more to do more independent things ,men might or might not want a particular employment,Women might want employment they could not afford to take up previously. The G.I. bill allowed many to overcome what would have led to widespread discontent and instead serve society with better reward had they not been given it. However many also used it to highlight what they were asked to do and later deal with. Catch-22.

    Men began remembering what it was like to choose who they worked for, the national collective memory of the International Workers of the World or "wobblies" (Quite a few were real hobos, the closest thing we've ever had to a union of the unemployed) and other groups was much fresher yet there was a gap between their sadly waning influence and the effectiveness of the unions and much more so to those unemployed or unemployable(don't forget how strict standards could be, a man could be fired for just about anything, with little recourse and much less understanding of the war's mental effects or alcoholism.)

    Many women did not want to rely on Men they found had become less predictable, or they did not know how to relate well to men in the first place, due to generations of economic strife in "new country same boss as the old country"situations. Whilst often as hard on men as women, women suffered more as they found themselves under husbands as well as his boss/company. Women were spending more on women-owned businesses Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubenstein, Avon-type companies all began doing more business. More of women's disposable income went to other women for things that had always carried weight but now were chargeable. Childcare, Eldercare.

    As many have commented Government policy began to heed the growing economic, increasingly political voices and crafted anti-discrimination laws ,the need for which has arguably declined with the voices becoming more automatic, less aware, more received (that is to say being taken from someone else's life and imprinted on one's own with very little understanding or honesty.)and less helpful, besides merely louder.Many women were either working on things at which women have an advantage either through long practice, cooking gardening, childcare, handicrafts or actual genetic advantage e.g. the ability to hear keenly any harmonics helps with dictation,telephone switchboard operator. It is also a fact that many women were introduced to work they had either done very little of before or were familiar with but not expected to be good at, e.g. fixing farm equipment. Never doing something before means you don't pretend or feel pressured to think you have to know how and demonstrate it, Companies found women in general easier to train. I believe the social dynamics were often in women's favor in terms of learning a job, even if many other things were not yet in their favor.

    Whenever machinery has been introduced it has resulted in a cutting of the number of workers and there has been an increase in automation, largely but not entirely to the employers benefit.workers were less and less often required to spend an entire working life on one job, often of limited skill as part of a vast combine. This meant a change in workplace organization. Taylorism, the first of many efforts in 'efficiency' took a long time to be replaced. It tore apart many traditional practices and standardized so much almost anyone could do many jobs with almost no training. Most workers felt undervalued and often took up club or society memberships or hobbies to fill the gaps.

    Again, as has been said before, when companies did not have to care for their worker's whims any one could be hired and that meant more women who could be paid less.

    Women were also considered easier to order around, more fun to be with and less likely to be competition or promoted.(it being easier to look at a candidate for a lower level poison) Men made a mistake there, to everyone's cost. Many women were entirely competent, yet lacked awareness of their effects on society. Men had always been trained to think of this, even if much had been hidden in self-pity or self-defense (spot the overlap) by women. Once women began being promoted to manager they would often hire some.If a man was unsure of who to hire he was often told or felt he should hire a woman, thus even if it was a bad hire, a woman would have been given a chance and that was an offset to the good.

    In short there are deep mental effects at work which I have barely scratched the surface of, that the Author was seemingly utterly unaware, and that speaks volumes about the ignorance which women are allowed to get away with when it comes to dealing fairly nowadays. Men were after all, expected to put others first, to make way for a woman, a "lady", and to provide assistance as a courtesy. Understanding was to be sought and respectfully so. A woman could use a great deal of expressive language as long as she didn't swear. In short women have kept their privileges, demanded more, taken from and deliberately, even if not always completely consciously,displaced Men. The only personal comment I could make of author is that she is not alone, in either her ability or her lack thereof. She is sister to millions. Pretending they don't know what's going on only adds insult to the injury. None of which helps Men be themselves, to take their place in the workplace or anywhere else. Thanks a bunch for making me write all this out, like you are actually going to read let alone "want" to follow it because you probably aren't strong enough to read something you don't "feel" good about. Or honest enough to admit to yourself. Like more women than Men. Even women can be hard on other women and Men don't need the aggravation, maybe it is a shame more men don't step up to the challenge but when the dice are loaded against you, by law and custom and the other sex is not caring and uses all the wiles they learnt when men used their fists, then no, Men aren't going to want to be part of a workforce with so many deliberately ignorant, uncaring and selfish women.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 9:23 AM, nmwander wrote:

    "Why Are Men Disappearing From the Workforce?"


    Ans: Social Engineering based on White Guilt.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 9:29 AM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    Large companies, "The Media", The Government and our Education system have been touting the so called advantages of "Diversity" for many years.

    "Diversity", in practice, has meant replacing white males with others.

    This is why men are disappearing from the workforce.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 10:48 AM, GERONIMORULES wrote:

    Men are figuring out that women will support them.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 11:10 AM, meow1968 wrote:

    There are basically two reasons. 1) So-called equal opportunity laws, which are really the opposite of what they claim to be, make employers far less likely to hire men than women; and 2) widespread abuse of harassment grievances claim the jobs of hundreds of thousands of innocent men every year, and also create a hostile environment for those men who still have their jobs. One of the most urgently-needed reforms to give Americans their prosperity back is for both state governments and employers to start saying no to the feminists.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 11:11 AM, sabebrush6 wrote:

    Women work cheaper than men and there are more women than men.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 2:54 PM, miteycasey wrote:

    1) manufacturing decline

    2) incarceration

    3) anything depending on strength can now be done by a machine

    4) retirement

    5) birthrate decline

    6) diversification of the work force.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 9:48 PM, quasimodo007 wrote:

    the Evil Anti Unions and Anti Women Rights GOp congress and their Mafia style Greedy Privilege CROOKs of wall street want to hire mostly women for they will work for lower wages and as Temps workers too . the Evil GOp congres gives their mafia Style Greedy Privilege CROOKS of Wall street huge Billions dollars Tax breaks when they Outsource US Jobs overseas and to Poor Evil Anti unions GOp states,. Alots of male Jobs have been Outsourced to Overseas, Canada , Mexico ,Brazil ,China ,Viet Nam, ETC...

    the Evil GOp congress Mafia style GREEDY Males Privilege Crooks of wall street get Huge Multi millions dollars Bonuses and TAX Free Paid Perks by Increasing the Inflate prices of good, Food, Utilities ,Oil and Imports. THE GREAT American RIP OFF

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Amanda Alix

Foolish financial writer since early 2012, striving to demystify the intriguing field of finance -- which, contrary to popular opinion, is truly what makes the world go 'round.

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