The labor force participation rate of prime working-age men (25-54 years old) has declined from 97 percent in 1964 to about 85 percent today. In contrast, prime-age women’s labor force participation over this period rose until the past few years. These changes in labor force participation have taken place alongside substantial changes in family life. More Americans are unmarried, and fathers are more likely to live apart from their children. Being disconnected from both work and family is most pronounced among less-educated men. This raises questions about how men experience this disconnection and how they understand their place in society in the absence of work and family ties.
Sociologist Sarah Halpern-Meekin is proposing a qualitative project that explores how men disconnected from the world of work see themselves vis-à-vis the worlds of work and family, with the goal of better understanding their decisions and experiences. She has two specific aims. The first is to understand the meaning men ascribe to work and to their disconnect from formal employment. Because work both provides income and is central to their identities, what makes men feel they can’t or won’t pursue work? She seeks to identify how being disconnected affects their lives and sense of self. The second aim is to understand the extent to which men see connections between their labor force participation and family relationships. How do they see their employment decisions as enmeshed with, versus separate from, their activities in other spheres of life? Halpern-Meekin will select about 80 men aged 25-54 and not currently formally employed or actively seeking formal employment who reside in non-metropolitan counties in Wisconsin for semi-structured interviews.