Public Release: 

New England's missing male workers and the region's limited labor force growth

Northeastern University

(8-13-02) BOSTON, Mass. -- Despite strong job growth and near-record low unemployment from mid-decade onward, the available pool of male workers in New England was stagnant in the 1990s and the number of native-born male workers actually declined considerably. Recent analysis of 2000 Census and CPS household survey data by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies reveals that the absence of any new labor force engagement among men was a key factor behind the region's abysmal labor force growth over the decade, and documents the substantive disparity between men and women's share of job growth in the region.

Some 90 percent of the labor force growth took place among women, while the number of men engaged in the workforce essentially remained the same during the 1990s, according to the report. Overall, labor force growth for the New England region ranked second to last in the country with an abysmal 2.5 percent growth rate -- the lowest rate for the region in 60 years. A notable absence of any additional men in the working world reveals that some men are being left behind both educationally and economically, a phenomenon that inhibits their full participation in New England's economy, significantly reduces their lifetime earnings and constrains the region's future economic growth.

"The lack of growth among men in the workforce was unique to New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies and a professor of economics at Northeastern. "All other regions of the country, especially the Rocky Mountain region and the South, posted considerably higher rates of male labor force growth." And while Sum says that some of this is due to the changing structure of the New England and Middle Atlantic economies, with a depressed demand for less educated males and to out-migration of men during 1990s, the fast disappearing native male worker is cause for considerable concern and will likely affect a host of economic and sociological dynamics in the region, including future job growth, trends in marriage, out-of-wedlock birth rates, and civic participation.

Over the 1990 to 2000 decade, the entire New England labor force grew by only 2.5 percent, compared to a growth rate of just under 12 percent for the nation. New England's growth rate was the second lowest among the nine geographic divisions, only modestly exceeding the growth rate of the Middle Atlantic division (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) which had 1.8 percent growth over the decade. Male labor force growth in New England during the 1990s was equal to only 17,000, or less than one percent, the lowest rate of male labor force growth in the past 60 years. Only the Mid-Atlantic region, where the number of male labor force participants actually declined, recorded a worse overall performance.

During the 1990s, women were responsible for all -- 100 percent -- of the labor force growth in southern New England. In Massachusetts, men contributed only two percent of the state's labor force growth -- while women contributed 98 percent -- and in Connecticut and Rhode Island the number of men in the labor force actually declined over the decade. Additionally, the number of new, male immigrant workers in the region skyrocketed by nearly 200,000 between 1990 and 2001, substantially exceeding the limited increase in the overall male labor force. The number of native-born male workers, thus, must have declined by over 180,000 or five percent over the course of the decade. This steep decline in the number of available native born male workers contributed to the record low unemployment rate (2.6 percent) for men in 2000 and to growing labor shortages in many industries.

The solution to the problem of declining male participation in the workforce, the authors say, will likely require a comprehensive set of education and workforce development strategies including efforts to reduce high school dropout rates and increase college attendance and completion rates. Efforts to decrease early retirements among males -- especially the aging Baby Boomers -- could help staunch the outflow of men from the workforce. This is critical as adults, ages 45 to 64, will account for 80 percent of the projected net increase in the region's working age population between 2000 and 2010. But the larger issue of why so many native-born men are leaving the workforce remains to be answered, Sum said.

"Among older males in their late 40s, 50s and 60s -- those traditionally considered to have a strong work ethic -- workforce attachment has significantly declined in the region over the past few decades," Sum said. "This is despite the fact that older men are better educated and healthier than at any point in the past and living longer lives. Increasing the labor market attachment of this group of older men should be a major goal of the state's and region's workforce development system during the current decade."


Northeastern University, a private research institution located in Boston, Massachusetts, is a world leader in practice-oriented education. Building on its flagship cooperative education program, Northeastern links classroom learning with workplace experience and integrates professional preparation with study in the liberal arts and sciences. For more information, please visit


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