It is known that the pandemic shifted everyone’s priorities and forced many of us to confront the question of “what am I doing with my life?” Almost all human beings with jobs have thought about this at some point between March 2020 and now, and many of them came to the conclusion that whatever they had been doing up until 2020 just wasn’t worth it. So we get ‘The Great Resignation,’ ‘Quiet Quitting,’ and whatever dumb phrase comes next. We also have the rise of overemployment, people who are juggling two, three, even four full-time jobs, giving just enough to do their jobs but not so much that they are breaking their backs for an employer that could fire them at any moment. “Loyalty” toward employers was already on the way out prior to the pandemic (thanks, millennials), COVID only hustled its inevitable disappearance along.
With 2020 now three years behind us, researchers have had some time to analyze the trends of those past three years and one study found that men age 25-54 (IOW: prime working age) are simply not working as hard as they used to. And here we thought that was just a boomer meme.
Fortune wrote it up under the headline “Men making good money in the prime of their lives are leaning away from demanding jobs and it could be because they’re ‘re-evaluating their priorities’” though in the study’s conclusion the researchers are clear that the trends they identified in analysis don’t fully answer the question of why the labor market is in the state it is and that further research is required to begin answering that question.
The latest trend is young men with at least bachelor’s degrees spending fewer hours working, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this month found. They spent an average of 14 hours less annually on the job between 2019 and 2022.
The decline was far less over the same period for similarly qualified women, who worked three fewer hours.
“The pandemic may have motivated people to re-evaluate their life priorities and also gotten them accustomed to more flexible work arrangements (e.g., work from home), leading them to choose to work fewer hours, especially if they can afford it,” the report said.
From the abstract of Where Are the Workers? From Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting [PDF]:
To better understand the tight post-pandemic labor market in the US, we decompose the decline in aggregate hours worked into the extensive (fewer people working) and the intensive margin changes (workers working fewer hours). Although the pre-existing trend of lower labor force participation especially by young men without a bachelor’s degree accounts for some of the decline in aggregate hours, the intensive margin accounts for more than half of the decline between 2019 and 2022. The decline in hours among workers was larger for men than women. Among men, the decline was larger for those with a bachelor’s degree than those with less education, for prime-age workers than older workers, and also for those who already worked long hours and had high earnings. Workers’ hours reduction can explain why the labor market is even tighter than what is expected at the current levels of unemployment and labor force participation
The paper covers both the flood of resignations that began in 2021 and the Great Resignation’s better-paying cousin ‘quiet quitting,’ both of which tend to lead to fewer hours worked for individuals who take that path:
Two labor market phenomena were popularized following the pandemic: the Great Resignation in 2021 and Quiet Quitting in 2022, both of which appear in the title of this article. Although some of the people who quit as part of the Great Resignation did exit from the labor force (extensive margin), many others simply found a new job, possibly with an employer offering more flexible work arrangements and less demanding hours (intensive margin), as well as better pay. Those who engage in Quiet Quitting do not actually quit or leave the labor force, but stop idolatrizing work and seek more work-life balance, including fewer hours (intensive margin). Our analysis helps us understand the role of both phenomena in the tightening of the labor market.
The lower participation rate is a continuation of a trend that has existed since the Great Recession, say the researchers. They concluded the reduction in hours among workers is something new that was induced by the pandemic, and that available evidence suggests it will likely continue. The reduction they identified was larger for prime-age males with a bachelor’s, and also for those male workers who already worked longer hours and earned more.
Wrote the authors in the paper’s conclusion:
While we made some conjectures based on available evidence as to why workers reduced their hours and whether they will continue to do so, these remain open questions. In addition, it will be fruitful to have a better understanding of the lower labor force participation of younger male cohorts, both its causes and consequences. These important topics are left for future research.
Where Are the Workers? From Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting [National Bureau of Economic Research]