The phenomenon that fewer men than ever before are in employment is not new. However, I was under the impression that this only affects men with comparatively limited prospects on the labor market. In many Western countries, there are perverse incentives so that you are, in a strictly material sense, much better off if you just live off benefits. I recall reading that a relatively low skilled employee in Germany makes perhaps 150 Euros more per month than someone living off benefits, but this does not take into account that the former has to work 40 hours a week, needs to commute, and has higher living expenses due to increased wear and tear of clothes. Random Joe who prefers rolling out of bed at 1 p.m., only to fire up his PlayStation right afterwards, in contrast, has all his basic needs taken care off and can do whatever he wants all day, every day. Of course, this assumes that he does not have extravagant hobbies, but that is not even on the menu, just like for someone who has an income somewhere in the lower 30% in society.
New to me was that there are also men with very solid middle to upper middle class jobs who just have had enough. This year alone, I have heard of three or four such cases in my wider social circle, all in tech. This even includes one guy who had a management position. An acquaintance told me that his employer wanted to avoid bad press, so they covered up lay-offs by offering mutual separation agreements, which included a few months of gardening leave as well as a severance payment on top. They had more people expressing interest in this than they had planned. To their dismay, the low performers were not among those, but this should not have surprised anyone. Among those people who took the money and left were some who had nothing lined up and had been toying with the idea of just not working for a while. Note that these were mainly guys relatively early in their career. Yet, this Gen-Z attitude of maximizing one’s work/life balance did not seem to common in tech at all.
Other interesting cases include two guys in their mid-to-late 50s who could easily work until retirement and just prefer to take it easy until they can draw a pension. If your mortgage is paid off, this is a perfectly viable approach. Yet, it is something that men in the past would not even have considered as work constituted part of their identity. These are all not guys who are walking away with company stock worth millions. Instead, this is the typical European context where people in technical professions are paid a bit better than the average, with the intention of keeping them in the hamster wheel until their mid to late 60s. More and more men have had enough of this.
Of course, there are many good reasons for wanting to check out of work. In the past, those were all normally just topics guys explored while having one beer too many. Today, they discuss this openly and earnestly. One reason is surely that the modern working world just cannot be taken very seriously. I have seen corporate speech guidelines covering a plethora of those made-up gender pronouns, for instance. At some big corporations, you have sessions on “raising children in non-gender-normative families” or a “deep dive on non-binary sexuality”. This is Clown World in overdrive. Thus, if you think that you do not need a job to make ends meet, I can easily understand why some guys prefer to just opt out.
Another option, and one plenty of guys seem to be taking, is to accept a pay cut and join a company that is not large or stable enough to push progressivism onto its employees. The difference in the United States between working at a large company versus a start up may be quite significant in terms of salary, but in Europe you may take, in the vast majority of cases, a pay cut of perhaps 15 to 20% as an engineer. In exchange, you may get the chance to work on actual technical problems again. This can also be seen as an example of men turning their back on the old blueprint of prioritizing their career at all costs, in particular if they get one of those tech maintenance gigs that are career dead ends but entail plenty of downtime at the job. If you get a remote gig, this means that you effectively work two or three hours a day — on a busy day.
Seeing that men are checking out despite the relatively poor macroeconomic situation seems to imply that we are dealing with a fundamental shift in attitude towards work. Partly, this is surely also due to men opting out of the standard societal blueprint of marrying and having children, and if you fully embrace the bachelor lifestyle then you may quite simply lack the external motivation to go the extra mile at work. This does not apply to you if you are intrinsically motivated, which only applies to a small number of men anyway. In the end, society will not be able to afford this, though. I have a hunch that white men wanting to take it easy will face the full wrath of the government a lot sooner than some other groups. This is obviously just an unsubstantiated suspicion I have.