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Economic SYNOPSES
short essays and reports on the economic issues of the day
2004 ■ Number 5

Your Current Job Probably Won’t Be Your Last
Kristie M. Engemann and Michael T. Owyang
revious generations of workers held lifelong jobs.
Today’s workers no longer expect to work for the same
employer for their entire career. Even in the past 20
years, expected job tenure has declined in the United States,
with a few differences between the trends for men and women.
Some notable trends in job tenure, and their potential causes,
may provide some insight into the employment landscape of
the future.
Friedberg and Owyang (2002) use data from the Survey of
Consumer Finances (SCF) to find job tenure trends.1 According to the SCF, from 1983 to 1998, average expected remaining
tenure—how long a worker expects to continue working for
his current employer—for full-time male employees declined
from 18.6 to 14.7 years. The trend for female workers is similar.
Their expected remaining tenure starts at 15.9 in 1983 and
eventually falls to 12.8 years in 1998.2 The accompanying
graph shows these numbers broken down by years of experience at workers’ current jobs. Note that for nearly every subsample, expected remaining tenure has decreased.
An interesting trend arises with the percentage of employees
aged 25 and older who have been with their current employer
for at least ten years. The total percentage of men in this group
decreased by nearly 5 points from 1983 to 2002, whereas the
opposite holds for women—their percentage increased by
almost 4 points. All age groups for men saw declines, but those
affected most negatively were men aged 40-44, 45-49, and,
especially, 60-64. In contrast, the percentage of women aged
35-54 with ten-year tenure or longer increased, but the remaining age groups suffered the same fate as the men’s age groups.3
What could have brought about these trends?
Changing labor market characteristics in the past couple of
decades have had pronounced effects on tenure. For instance,
countering the general decreasing tenure trend, women’s rising
labor force participation beginning in the 1980s undoubtedly
contributed to the proportion of 35- to 54-year-olds with ten
years of tenure. In the graph, these same women demonstrate
their growing attachment to the workforce through their
increased expected remaining tenure.
Numerous factors have contributed to the decline in job
tenure. The composition of payroll employment has shifted

P

to more heavily favor service jobs at manufacturing’s expense.
Because the median tenure for a worker in manufacturing
exceeds that of a worker with a service job by at least two years,
this shift has played a role in average tenure’s decline. Technological progress in the past few decades has also led to a number
of changes in the workplace. Using data from 1983 to 2000
and measures of total factor productivity (TFP), Friedberg
and Owyang (2002) find that higher TFP growth was correlated with a decline in job tenure. New technologies bring
about job turnover by replacing unskilled jobs while making
skilled jobs more complex.
With today’s labor market, people believe that they will
switch jobs more often than their counterparts years ago did,
as demonstrated by falling average and expected remaining
tenure. Continuing technological advances and the concomitant demand for new skills will maintain these trends. ■
1

Friedberg, Leora and Owyang, Michael. “Explaining the Evolution of Pension
Structure and Job Tenure.” Working Paper 2002-022b, Federal Reserve Bank of
St. Louis, October 2002.

2

The men experienced a concurrent drop in average tenure from 9.7 to 8.8 years
during this time period, while women’s average job tenure declined from 7.4 to
7.3 years from 1983 to 1998.

3

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employee Tenure in 2002.” Release, September 19, 2002.

Average Expected Remaining Tenure
Years of Expected Remaining Tenure
25
20
15
10
5
0
0-5

6-15

16-25

26-35

Years of Current Tenure
1983 Men

1998 Men

1983 Women

Views expressed do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve System.

research.stlouisfed.org

1998 Women