Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Occupational Tenure in 1987: Many Workers Have Remained in Their Fields

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Occupational Tenure in 1987: Many Workers Have Remained in Their Fields

Article excerpt

Generally, men have been in their current occupations longer than have women, whites longer than blacks, and college graduates longer than those with less education; almost half of the 55- to 59-year-olds have been in their current occupations at least 20 years Information on tenure-the length of time worked in an occupation-can be useful to individuals, employers, and labor market researchers. Individuals planning their careers can use tenure information to help identify occupations having long- and short-term worker attachment. In career planning, knowledge of tenure can aid in evaluating job satisfaction, job security, and career potential. Employers can use occupational tenure information in a variety of personnel planning activities. Together with information on separations, tenure data can be used by employers to anticipate the number of workers they may be required to hire to replace workers who leave their firm. The data also can be used to compare the occupational tenure of a firm's employees with the work force as a whole. Researchers in Government agencies, universities, employer associations, professional associations, and unions can use tenure information to study labor market behavior of workers in specific occupations of interest as well as in the labor market in general.

The information presented in this article is based on data obtained from a supplement to the January 1987 Current Population Survey. In that supplement, occupational tenure was defined as the cumulative number of years a person worked in his or her current occupation, regardless of number of employers, interruptions in employment, or time spent in other occupations. For example, a person who worked as a librarian for 2 years, as a teacher for the next 5 years, and then as a librarian for the last 2 years (their current job), would be classified as a librarian with 4 years of tenure. This measure should not be confused with employer tenure-the amount of time worked for the same employer- which was treated separately in the survey and is briefly discussed later in this article.

Median occupational tenure of the 109.1 million workers 16 years of age and older in January 1987 was 6.6 years. (For ease of reading, medians henceforth will be called averages in the text of this article.) Average tenure increased directly with age, rising from 1.9 years for workers ages 16-24 to 21.9 years for those 70 and over. (See table 1.) Most teenagers, of course, have not been in the labor force long enough to have much experience, and jobs held by students typically are temporary. Moreover, young high school and college graduates often try more than one occupation before deciding on a career, and entry into some fields is delayed until advanced degrees are completed. By the time they are in their late twenties or early thirties, however, many people have settled into a career path. Almost 47 percent of all workers 35 to 39 years of age had 10 years or more of tenure, while only 12 percent had less than 2 years.' A person who has accumulated a lengthy amount of tenure in an occupation often will try to remain, in it until retirement, because a change in careers could require a change of employers and result in a loss of seniority and pension rights. About 46 percent of the workers ages 55 to 59 had 20 years of tenure or more.

While the survey did not indicate when the current occupation was first entered, the data suggest that some older people had been doing the same kind of work virtually all their adult lives. Almost one-fifth of the workers ages 65 to 69, for example, reported 40 years of tenure or more, which means they could have started before age 25 but not after age 29. Because tenure was measured cumulatively, some of these people may have first entered their occupation well before age 25, with time away for military service, family responsibilities, or other reasons.

In addition to being a function of age, occupational tenure varies by sex, race, education, and other demographic characteristics. …

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