Analyzing Job Mobility with Job Turnover Intentions: An International Comparative Study

By Sousa-Poza, Alfonso; Henneberger, Fred | Journal of Economic Issues, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Analyzing Job Mobility with Job Turnover Intentions: An International Comparative Study


Sousa-Poza, Alfonso, Henneberger, Fred, Journal of Economic Issues


A considerable amount of research on labor turnover and job search behavior exists in economics (for example, Belzil 1996; Farber 1994; Lillien and Hall 1986; Parsons 1991; Schettkat 1996; Veum 1997). This is not surprising since labor turnover and job search behavior are essential ingredients in an imperfect world where employers' and employees' characteristics are not known to all: only well-directed mobility can assure that anything resembling an optimal allocation of jobs to workers arises. A topic strongly related to job mobility is "turnover intentions." Turnover intention reflects the (subjective) probability that an individual will change his or her job within a certain time period. As opposed to labor turnover, turnover intentions are not definite. And, although turnover intentions are often associated with job search behavior, this need not always be the case. (1)

So why is the analysis of turnover intentions important? First, it should be noted that a vast literature on the analysis of turnover intentions exists in psychology (e.g., Cohn 2000; George and Jones 1996; Hom et al. 1992; Mobley 1977; Sager et al. 1998; Wright and Cropanzano 1998). Psychologists argue that voluntary labor turnover is an important topic since such movements represent potential costs to organizations in terms of loss of valuable human resources and the disruption of ongoing activities (Cascio 1991). Economists generally accept this point although they often tend to stress the benefits of labor turnover. For psychologists, turnover intentions are accordingly important, since such intentions are the immediate precursors to actual turnover. As is well and extensively documented in the psychology literature, a close relationship between the intention to quit and actual turnover exists (e.g., Mobley 1977; Mobley et al. 1979; Price and Mueller 1986; Rusbult and Farrell 1983; Steers and Mowday 1981). Thus, these intentions are good at forecasting actual quits (e.g., Mobley et al. 1979; Sager et al. 1998; Steel and Ovalle 1984). (2)

There is also a second important reason for analyzing turnover intentions: to out knowledge, very few international comparative studies on actual turnovers exist. This is not surprising since there are severe data limitations in such cross-national studies. The main reason is that information on job fluctuations, when analyzed with microdata, usually require a panel, and cross-national panels are very rare. Quoting Simon Burgess, "Ideally, we would want to examine individual level surveys for a wide variety of countries, conducted on exactly the same basis and including the same rich set of conditioning variables. Sadly but unsurprisingly, this is not possible. (3) (1999). These data limitations can be avoided by analyzing job turnover intentions) Since turnover intentions and actual (primarily voluntary) turnovers are strongly correlated, such an approach presents an interesting alternative for analyzing job mobility in an international, comparative way.

Four cross-national studies on actual turnovers which we are aware of are those of J. van Ours (1990), R. Schettkat (1997), and S. Burgess (1994, 1999). Van Ours used aggregate pooled cross-sectional time-series data from various sources in order to analyze job mobility in six OECD countries (France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States). He showed that job mobility is positively correlated with the growth of employment and negatively correlated with the unemployment rate. Furthermore, the results appear to indicate that no structural differences in job mobility between the USA, Sweden, France, and the UK exist, whereas job mobility in the Netherlands and Japan is structural[y lower than in the other countries. Schettkat used aggregate data from the European Union's Labor Force Survey, with which he analyzed job mobility in the years 1982-83 and 1987-88 in twelve EU countries. The main aim of this study is to capture the effects of labor market regulations on labor mobility. …

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