Occupational mobility and job tenure in 1983 Essay

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

Among the principal findings:

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

* 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

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

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

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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