The social changes that drove men from work

This isn’t just aimless theorizing; previous research has confirmed that no-fault divorce led to less gender specialization within marriage, which implies that breadwinning ability became less likely to earn someone a spouse — making work a less worthy investment, especially for lower-skilled men, who are limited in how much they earn even with maximal effort. And indeed, Binder’s analysis shows that as states rolled out no-fault divorce, their young, non-college-educated male residents became less likely to work relative to similar men in states that hadn’t changed divorce policy yet.

The second major change is improvement in women’s employment opportunities. This happened throughout the country over the past half-century, but different industries are more common in different regions of the country — meaning that nationwide industry trends can disproportionately help (or harm) the employment of women (or men) at the local level. Binder finds that when such shifts favored women’s employment, men in the most affected areas became more likely to leave the labor force, even after accounting for their own work opportunities.