The Declining Labor Market Prospects of Less-Educated Men
Over the last half century, U.S. wage growth stagnated, wage inequality rose, and the labor-force participation rate of prime-age men steadily declined. In this article, we examine these labor market trends, focusing on outcomes for males without a college education. Though wages and participation have fallen in tandem for this population, we argue that the canonical neo-classical framework, which postulates a labor demand curve shifting inward across a stable labor supply curve, does not reasonably explain the data. Alternatives we discuss include adjustment frictions associated with labor demand shocks and effects of the changing marriage market-that is, the fact that fewer less-educated men are forming their own stable families-on male labor supply incentives.
Our observations lead us to be skeptical of attempts to attribute the secular decline in male labor-force participation to a series of separately-acting causal factors. We argue that the correct interpretation probably involves complicated feedback between falling labor demand and other factors which have disproportionately affected men without a college education.