Men and Video Games: Confusing Correlation with Causality

rust-zoneThe New York Times article Why Some Men Don’t Work: Video Games Have Gotten Really Good and the article it quotes, Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men (which is behind a pay wall), are confusing the effect for the cause. Moreover, so many activities are omitted from the study (according to the article) that any attempts to draw conclusions from it are laughable.

The paper — by economists Erik Hurst, Mark Aguiar, Mark Bils and Kerwin Charles — argues that video games help explain why younger men are working fewer hours.

Interesting. Let’s have a look at the abstract. I’m going to comment on it bit by bit, because it’s dense. I’ll edit mildly to remove some of the gobbledygook jargon.

Young men aged 21 to 30 had a larger decline in work hours over the last fifteen years than either older men or women. Since 2004, young men distinctly shifted their leisure to video gaming and other recreational computer activities.

I believe both of these statements.

We will answer whether improved leisure technology played a role in reducing the hours young men worked. We show that total leisure demand is especially sensitive to innovations in leisure luxuries, that is, activities that display a disproportionate response to changes in total leisure time.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense (like a lot of social science writing). I think what these 4 PhD’s are trying to say that people spend more time doing things that are funner.

We estimate that gaming/recreational computer use is distinctly a leisure luxury for younger men.

No shit? I know two young women who must be the exception that proves the rule. Have these guys not heard of Tumblr? [Spoiler: they haven’t.]

We predict a decline in market hours of 1.5 to 3.0 percent.

So if young men previously worked 40 hours per week, you predict they are now working between 39.5 hours and 37 hours per week.

Moreover, we calculate that innovations to gaming/recreational computing since 2004 explain on the order of half the increase in leisure for younger men.

How do you calculate that innovations in gaming caused the increase? The fact is that they may “make up” half the increase. That they “explain” it is pure speculation.

That’s it for the abstract. I’m going to go on to the NYT article.

By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year. One puzzle is why the working hours for young men fell so much more than those of their older counterparts. The gap between the two groups grew by about 40 hours a year, or a full workweek on average.

Here’s a thought for you: older men have more responsibilities. Men over 30 are more likely to be married, have children, want to buy a hose. Could be the reason they’re working more hours?

Instead of looking at why employers don’t want young men, this group of economists considered a different question: Why don’t young men want to work?

At least they’re asking the right question.

Mr. Hurst and his colleagues estimate that, since 2004, video games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year.

The assertion that video games are “responsible” can never be “estimated”. A conclusion is being drawn here. Where’s the evidence for it?

Between 2004 and 2015, young men’s leisure time grew by 2.3 hours a week. A majority of that increase — 60 percent — was spent playing video games, according to government time use surveys. In contrast, young women’s leisure time grew by 1.4 hours a week. A negligible amount of that extra time was spent on video games. Likewise for older men and older women: Neither group reported having spent any meaningful extra free time playing video games.

It’s interesting that young men’s leisure time increased by almost twice as much as young women’s. Since the number of hours spent on video games (at least in the article) is based on a survey, this could simply mean that men are more open about how much time they spend on video games and other computer activities. [Or, as we will see later in the article, the study authors could be miscounting the data.]

The article provides data from the survey. Young men’s gaming and computer time went from 5.3 hours in 2007 to 8.6 in 2015 (a 38% increase). Young women’s stayed constant at 3 hours. Then again, men had 2.3 more hours of free time, whilst women had just 1.4 more. Also, the men increased the amount of time spent sleeping, eating, and grooming by only 0.6 hours, while the women increase these activities a whopping 1.8 hours. I submit that you are merely observing a difference between young men and young women.

The analysis showed that the amount of time young men spent on household chores or child care was not going up.

Which, given that fewer men are marrying, especially young men, makes perfect sense.

Mr. Hurst argues that women are more likely to choose the types of mobile games that people tend to play while doing something else, like riding in a car or standing in line. The time use survey captures only people’s primary activity, not the secondary nature of casual mobile games like Candy Crush.

So a major form of gaming, one that young women especially engage in, has been omitted from the study.

The analysis also did not count activities like using Facebook and Snapchat or browsing the web.

OK, this is the killer. How can these not be included? This study is complete bullshit.

Some economists are skeptical of the conclusions, pointing out that the labor force participation rates for young men in other countries where video games are popular, like Japan, have not fallen in similar fashion.

They should be skeptical of this claptrap, and they raise a very good point.

But if we accept the authors’ claim that some segment of men is dropping out of the labor force to play games, is that necessarily a bad thing?

It is, because it means you are a complete sucker.

Young non-college-educated men — the group most likely to be home playing games — are more likely to say that they are happy than similar men a decade ago. Older non-college-educated men are the unhappier ones.

But are they happier because they are playing more games, or simply because they have more time to do all the things they want to?

According to Mr. Hurst, young men may simply be shuffling around the years in their life that they want to work. “Why not have a little fun in your 20s and work in your 80s?” he said.

What make him think they will do that?

Of course, that assumes that young Americans who choose video games over work — a group for whom there is no historical data — will be able to find good jobs someday. And that they won’t be seduced by the kinds of games available in 2070.

Or that they will want to find “good” jobs. If you and a bunch of your buddies get together and rent a place, you don’t need “good” jobs. Those who opt for a traditional lifestyle, with marriage, children and home ownership, are the ones who need them. I put the decrease in working hours down to this as well. People are fed up with working long hours for less and less benefit as wages fail to keep up to inflation and taxes continue to increase. Can you blame young men for opting out of the American dream?

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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