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Occupational mobility and job tenure in 1983.

Intergenerational and intragenerational upward occupational mobility is an accepted part of American life. Also commonly accepted is a picture of the U.S. labor market in which workers are highly mobile in general. Numerous books and articles describe Americans' extensive "job hopping" and geographic mobility. American workers are seen as changing occupations and employers in far higher proportions than their counterparts in other industrial nations.

This view of widespread job mobility is supported by a number of developments which tend to hold down the measures of average tenure in the United States, particularly in comparison with Japan and other industrial nations. These developments primarily are related to rapid increases in the U.S. population and labor force. For example, over the past decade, millions of American women have entered the labor force each year. Moreover, the American work force has been boosted by high rates of migration (both legal and illegal) into the United States. As a result, employment has grown by 20 million since the early 1970's. And with all of these new workers in the labor force, it is not too surprising that the overall measure of job tenure for the United States is relatively low.

Yet, a detailed look at the data on tenure shows that a large proportion of American workers apparently spend most of their "mature" worklife with the same employer and in the same type of work. Jobs held by middle-aged workers appear highly stable. New data from the Current Population Survey seem to support the contention that mature American workers, on average, show substantial job stability, thus making them not too unlike the workers of Japan.

Of course, there is significant job movement among young workers, both in terms of employers and types of work. Still, once they settle into a career path, employees become considerably more stable in terms of their work than is generally thought. This is the picture which emerges from the most recent information on workers' tenure with their employer and in their current occupation. The information was gathered through special questions in the Current Population Survey on the work persons were doing in January 1983, whether it was the kind of work they did a year earlier, how long they had done that kind of work, and how long they had been working continuously for their current employer.

Among the principal findings:

* One worker in 6 has been with his or her employer for at least 15 years.

* Among workers aged 45 and over, nearly one-third have been with their current employer is closely linked to occupational stability.

* The rate at which women change occupations has increased substantially over the past two decades, but for men there has been no trend. Tenure with employer

As expected, the length of tenure with one's employer is strongly related to the age of workers. For example, the vast majority of teenagers working in January 1983 had held their jobs for 1 year or less. Workers aged 20 to 24 also had short tenure. Again this is not surprising, because most of these young adults are recent entrants into the labor force, their jobs being largely temporary in nature while they are in the process of searching for and establishing careers. In contrast, many older workers have become attached to a particular employer and a given occupation, and thus are far less mobile. Their longer attachment to a job usually provides wage increases and greater employment security as well as pension rights.

Among workers aged 35 to 44 in January 1983, more than one-third had been with the same employer for 10 years or more, and among workers 45 and over, nearly one-third had been at their jobs for at least 20 years. (See Table 1.) This indicates a substantial employment stability among a large portion of American workers. While tenure among younger workers is obviously shorter, the observed pattern by age, if continued into the future, would indicate that about half of all workers aged 30 to 34 who have been with an employer for 10 to 14 years are likely to remain with that employer for a least another 10 years. And for workers aged 25 to 29 the proportion would be almost 40 percent.

On average, men have longer job tenure than women. This is primarily because uninterrupted labor force participation has been common for men but is a more recent practice for women. As shown in table 1, among all workers 16 years of age and over, the proportion that had been with their employer 15 years or more was about 20 percent for men and 10 percent for women. Job tenure was longer for men than for women in part-time as well as full-time employment. Black women (who have had a high rate of labor force participation for many years) exceeded both white and Hispanic women in tenure with their 1983 employer.

Young men and women have similar median years of job tenure. Tenure for men, however, becomes significantly longer than for women at ages 35 and older. As the following tabulation shows, in the 55-to-64 age group in January 1983, median tenure for men was 16.9 years, in contrast to 10.3 years for women.

The average length of tenure of workers with their employers does not vary greatly by major occupational group, particularly if one excludes "farming, forestry, and fishing." The workers in this occupational group have an unusually high median tenure because many are permanently self-employed and also because these are declining occupations which attract few newcomers. In all other occupational groups, the median years of tenure with employers do not show a wide dispersion from the overall averages for men and women. For example, median tenure for all men 25 and over is 6.9 years. When ranged by major occupational groups, the medians for these men varied from a high of 8.1 years for those in "executive, administrative, and managerial" jobs and "administrative support, including clerical" jobs, to a low of 4.1 years for those in service occupations other than private household and protective services. (See table 2.) For women 25 and over, the range of employer tenure is even smaller, with the medians for most occupational groups being closely clustered around 4.8 years for all women in this age group.

It should be noted that, historically, most research on tenure has been limited to male workers. Thus, the finding that many Americans spend much of their mature worklife with the same employer usually refers only to men. Yet, when observations on women are included, this remains true. There also is substantial job stability among older female workers; for example, almost half of women 45 and over in January 1983 had been with their current employer 10 years or more. Moreover, because increasing proportions of women are now permanent members of the work force, the gap in tenure between men and women should begin to narrow.

Has tenure been increasing or declining over time? Unfortunately, the question cannot be answered, as the measurements taken in 1983 are not fully comparable with previous ones. Median tenure did turn out to be considerably higher in 1983 than when last measured in 1981--4.4 versus 3.2 years for workers 16 years and over. Some of the increase may have reflected the reluctance of workers to change employers during a period of economic downturn, such as that which preceded the January 1983 survey. This reluctance was shown by the lower proportion of "job leavers" among the unemployed. The sharpening of the 1983 questions, as compared with those used in 1981 and previous surveys, also was probably responsible for much of the increase in tenure measurements. Occupational tenure and shifts

For certain purposes--such as the analysis of earnings differences between groups--it may be more appropriate to focus on the workers' length of

experience in their occupation rather than on their length of service with their employer. Data on time spent in a given occupation--occupational tenure--also were gathered as part of the January 1983 survey. (See table 3.)

As with employer tenure, occupational tenure is closely associated with age. On average, men are also more likely to have spent a longer period of time in the same occupation than are women. White, black, and Hispanic men all had longer occupational tenure than their female counterparts.

The longer the attachment with an employer, the less likely the worker is to change occupations. Of the 26 million men and women 25 years and over who had been working for their 1983 employer for 10 years or more, only 658,000 or 2.5 percent, had changed occupations in the preceding year. In contrast, as shown in the following tabulation, nearly 1 of 3 persons working for their 1983 employer for 1 year or less had changed occupations in 1982.

As shown above, about 8 percent of all workers 25 years and over in January 1983 were in occupations different from those held in 1982. Although the proportions of men and women moving into an occupation are similar for most occupations, their actual numbers vary widely.

The occupations "executive, administrative, and management" and "protective service" are two occupations which had a substantially higher proportionate entry by women than by men. The occupational mobility rate--which measures the proportion of workers who were employed both in 1983 and 1982, but in a different occupation--was 10.9 percent for women versus 6.9 percent for men entering management, and 13.1 percent for women versus 6.4 percent for men entering protective service. (See table 4.) The high mobility rate for women into management is evidence of continued expanding employment opportunities for women in that occupation. While the absolute numbers are low, entry into protective service for women indicates movement into an occupation that is nontraditional for female workers.

Of those persons employed in both January 1982 and 1983 who changed occupations during that period, most moved within the same major occupational group, that is, the move was among very closely related occupations. Such mobility was high, for example, for both men and women in the professions.

Women were somewhat more likely than men to make a shift from one major occupational group to another. For example, more than 40 percent of men in executive, administrative, and managerial employment who had changed occupations du ring 1982-83 had made a shift within the management field, while a relatively high proportion of women who were managers in 1983 had been clerical workers the previous year. Similarly, a somewhat larger percentage of women in sales in 1983 had been in clerical jobs in 1982. However, more men had made an intraoccupational move within sales during that period than any other type of occupational change. (See table 5.) These differences, however, may stem in part from errors made in reporting, recording, or classifying the data.

The rate at which women change occupations has increased substantially over the past two decades, unlike the situation for men. In 1966, the occupational mobility rate was markedly higher for men than for women. By 1978, and continuing to 1983, the situation was reversed. Over the 1966-83 period, the occupational mobility rate for women 18 and older and not in school increased from 6.8 to 9.9 percent, peaking at 11.7 percent in 1978. Over the same period, the rate for men did not show any definite trend; it rose during the 1970's but dropped off considerably in the early 1980's. The largest change over this 18- ear period occurred for men and women 20 to 24. (See table 6.)

As measured in January 1983, the occupational mobility rate was slightly higher for Hispanic men than for white men, but considerably higher than for blacks. Black men had the lowest rate in almost every age group. The occupational mobility rate for black women was lower than those for both Hispanic and white women, and this difference appeared in almost all age groups.

A number of "push" and "pull" factors are involved in occupational mobility. Among the pull factors, for example, are better pay and more appealing work. Push factors would include a forced change because of declining demand in one's preferred occupation. Much of women's recent occupational mobility may be attributed to pull factors. These are consistent with women's strong growth in the labor force, increased educational attainment, some slight improvements in earnings relative to men, and broadened occupational opportunities. In contrast, because male workers predominated in industries sharply affected by the 1981-82 recession, some of them may have been pushed, at least temporarily, into occupations with lower earnings and lower status.

The factors associated with high occupational mobility generally parallel those given for low job tenure. The converse is also true. Thus, many mature workers reported both high job tenure and low occupational mobility. The occupational mobility rate for workers aged 45 and over in 1983 was only 4.0 percent.

Differences in occupational mobility by age are mu ch larger than differences by sex or race or ethnic group. For example, the 22-percent mobility rate for workers 16 to 24 was 15 percentage points higher than the rate for those 35 to 44.

Single workers, being generally younger, are more likely to change occupations than their married counterparts. But age has a strong effect on mobility even within the single-worker group. More than twice as many single workers between the ages of 18 and 24 had changed occupations during 1982 than those 25 and over (2,050 versus 803).

This relationship between age and occupational mobility is similar to that between age and employer change: Youth are far more likely to be occupationally mobile and to shift employers than are adult workers. The extensive mobility attributed to American workers applies for the most part to young, not older, workers.
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Author:Sehgal, Ellen
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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