16 May 2016

Where is My Robot? What Long-term Trends in Male Labor Participation Rates Suggest About the Future

In the late 1940s, the labor participation rate for men was nearly 87%. For every 100 men working, there were only 37 women.

By last month, after declining for 7 decades, the labor participation rate for men was 69.3%. Now, for every 100 men working there are 82 women working.

You can see that in this graph. The blue bar - men's participation rate - slowly falls over time. Meanwhile, until about the start of this century, women were gaining on men.

Curiously, women's participation rate as a percentage of men's has seemed to level off at about 80%. It hasn't moved much since the turn of the century and it seems plausible that it won't ever catch men's rate of labor participation.

So that raises a question. Has the steady decline of men's labor participation rate been because of women entering the labor force or do we simply need fewer workers as a percentage of the population? Will women's participation rate as a percentage of men's stabilize and if so, will their rates of participation join men's in slow, gradual decline? Will households - and not just men - need to work less in the future?

I don't know enough about why men's rate of labor participation has fallen so steadily for nearly 70 years to say. I do think it's a remarkably steady fall and it might just be a leading indicator of labor participation rates for men and women.

Now we need another line that shows robots' labor participation rate. Because maybe - just maybe - that rate will climb as women join men in gradual liberation from work.


gabby57 said...

Having read your book and followed your blog, the following article and report seems to support your theory to some degree.


It reminds me of Tom Peter's phrase; "Me Inc".

BTW; Love the book and promote it to others when I can.

Ron Davison said...

Thanks so much for the kind words about the book.
Yes, this article does tie into my notions about how things are playing out. I still believe that what we need is a hybrid employment / entrepreneur role that synthesizes some degree of the steady pay of a salaried job with some of the risk / return of entrepreneurship. We have to take risk to make entrepreneurship happen but it's too much to expect enough individuals to take it on themselves.