Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Transition from School to Work: Education and Work Experiences: Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Found That the Average Worker, Approximately 5 Years after Leaving School for the First Time, Starts a Job That Will Last 3 Years; However, There Was Considerable Variation by Education

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Transition from School to Work: Education and Work Experiences: Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Found That the Average Worker, Approximately 5 Years after Leaving School for the First Time, Starts a Job That Will Last 3 Years; However, There Was Considerable Variation by Education

Article excerpt

Youths experience different trajectories in their transition from school to work. Some youths jump from job to job and do not develop a steady employment relationship until many years after leaving school, if at all. Others settle into a longer-term employment relationship soon after leaving school. Some policymakers and educators express concern that many new entrants to the job market tend to experience periods of churning, moving from one low paying job to another, without settling into a longer-term relationship. (1) This argument posits that the time, sometimes many years, spent moving from one short-term job to another is nonproductive and steps should be taken to eliminate it.

Other analysts see this period of short employment spells in a more positive light. They argue that early job mobility represents "job shopping" where young workers learn about different work environments and their own skills and interests. (2) As youths acquire different work experiences, they are able to move into jobs that better match their skills and interests, often with higher wages. In this light, the job-shopping phase can be beneficial for both workers and their employers.

Education is clearly linked to these employment processes. In high school, youths learn mainly general skills. These include not only hard skills such as literacy and numeracy, but soft skills such as punctuality, dependability, and following directions. Because of their youth, those seeking jobs just after high school may know less about the world of work and be less committed to a particular occupation. Likewise, employers of these youths have less information about their skills. Both employer and employee may look at entry-level jobs as a learning process by which each can evaluate the long-term potential of their "match." College graduates, on the other hand, invest more in specific skills and may acquire a greater knowledge of the job market within their field. They can match their interests to skills and reject potential career paths before entering the labor market. Employers of new college graduates have potentially greater knowledge of the particular skills of their new hires, and, because of the higher wages they must pay, more incentive to find a good match. For these reasons, matches between new college graduates and their employers may be expected to last longer than those between new high school graduates and employers. Youths who have left school without a high school degree are doubly disadvantaged; they lack both general and job-specific skills, and they face employers who have low expectations and little incentive to invest in their matches. Consequently, schooling choices may dictate the speed and ease of the school-to-work transition.

This article documents the transition from school to work for a nationally representative sample of men and women from the time they first left school for a year or more until age 35. The tables in this article describe the duration of employment relationships and time since leaving school until holding a job for a specific number of years. This will help to answer a number of questions about the transition from school to work, such as: how does job changing evolve as individuals age; how does job mobility behavior vary by education level and other demographic characteristics; and finally, how long does it take an average individual to settle into a longer-term job.

Other researchers have used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) to study job changes, mostly focusing on men. Some of the articles have been more descriptive like this one, although for earlier time periods. (3) Others engage in detailed empirical analysis, and generally try to examine the causes and consequences of early job changes. (4) In this article, we use data through 2002, which allows us to trace individuals' careers until age 35. Thus we can show individuals' job transitions from the end of school into the workforce and up until mid-career. …

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