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Why more young men are choosing video games over a job

A growing number of young men without college degrees are choosing to live at home and play video games rather than working, according to a new study. 

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Visitors play 'Heroes of the Storm,' developed by video game producer Blizzard Entertainment, using PCs during the Gamescom fair in Cologne, Germany August 6, 2015.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

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They're less likely to have a job, more likely to live at home with their parents – and happier than ever. 

A recent unpublished study from researchers at Princeton University, the University of Rochester, and the University of Chicago found that more young men, particularly those who don't have college degrees, are living at home, working part-time or not at all, and regularly playing video games. But the prevalence of this lifestyle isn't due to a lack of jobs or difficult economy – rather, many young men are consciously choosing video games over work.

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And, surveys show, rates of happiness among this demographic are rising. 

"[H]appiness surveys actually indicate that they are quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games," researcher Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, said in a university interview. 

One in five men between the ages of 21 and 30 with less than a bachelor's degree reported not working at all in 2014 – more than double than the 9.5 percent who reported not working in 2000. These young men have replaced 75 percent of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer, mostly spent playing video games, the new study found. Between 2004 and 2007, this group spent an average of 3.4 hours a week playing video games. By 2014, that time had risen to 8.6 hours. 

Overall, the paper attributes one-third to one-fifth of the decline in working hours among these men to technology-based entertainment, such as video games. 

Much of the trend may have to do with the psychological effects of video games, which some of these young men say are more rewarding than work. 

"When I play a game, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded," Danny Izquierdo, a 22-year-old who lives with his parents in Silver Spring, Md., explained to The Washington Post. "With a job, it's always been up in the air with the amount of work I put in and the reward." 

The rewards systems employed by video game creators are well-documented. And research shows that young men are particularly susceptible to video game addiction, as video games activate the reward circuits of males more so than those of females. 

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Could similar rewards structures be applied to the business world to motivate more young men to get, and keep, a job? Some experts say yes. 

Technology theorist Tom Chatfield suggests that businesses set "calibrated targets" for employees, use "elements of uncertainty," employ "a grand, underlying reward and incentive system," and encourage collaboration in groups. Similar strategies, he explains in a TED talk, could also be used in education by breaking things down into smaller tasks, rewarding effort consistently, and offering opportunities for group interactions. 

"[I]f we can look at these things and learn from them and see how to turn them outwards, then I really think we have something quite revolutionary on our hands," he said.