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The Declining Labor Market Prospects of Less-Educated Men

Ariel J. Binder, John Bound

NBER Working Paper No. 25577
Issued in February 2019
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25577

Published: Ariel J. Binder & John Bound, 2019. "The Declining Labor Market Prospects of Less-Educated Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol 33(2), pages 163-190.

 
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