A strong economy and stable society depend on the labor force participation of healthy citizens. Yet since the mid-1960s, the rate of American men between ages 25 and 54 (“prime-age men”) working or actively looking for work has steadily declined. Their employment-to-population ratio (percentage of total population group currently working) dropped substantially from the mid-1960s to 2016. During this period, marriage rates have also fallen precipitously, particularly among less-educated groups. Moreover, a growing research literature is documenting a rise in poor health and premature mortality among these populations, which has been linked to increases in drug and alcohol abuse and physical and mental health problems, including suicide. These demographic and health-related shifts both reflect and contribute to poverty and inequality. Reversing these trends has the potential to improve labor force participation, social well-being, and economic growth. This brief synthesizes current research on work and well-being among less-educated men, many of whom are low-income or poor, and identifies knowledge gaps about why their labor force participation has fallen. (Author abstract)
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