Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

The Effect of Job Mobility on Academic Salaries

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

The Effect of Job Mobility on Academic Salaries

Article excerpt


The hypothesis that individuals increase future earnings by investing in themselves through job change has considerable empirical support. To date, this hypothesis has not been tested on the academic labor market. Using a national faculty survey that includes respondents' complete work history, the authors estimate the impact of job mobility on faculty salaries. The rate of job mobility among faculty members appears low compared to that of other workers. Salaries overall are not significantly related to the number of academic jobs held until the number of jobs reaches four, and then the effect is negative. An examination by gender reveals that women incur a salary penalty of 8% in moving to the second job. (JEL J44, J60)


According to human capital theory, workers invest in themselves through education, training, and job change, in order to raise future earnings. Workers learn about their comparative advantage in the labor market by sampling many jobs. A move occurs when the present value of expected earnings in the new job exceeds the discounted returns to the present job plus the costs of moving. Numerous studies, including Borjas and Rosen (1980), attest to the role of job mobility in determining earnings. Topel and Ward (1992) estimate that job changes account for as much as one-third of early-career wage growth among young men.

One might question whether job changes have a similarly positive effect on academic salaries, especially in the pretenure stage of a faculty member's career. Academia represents a very different labor market, given features such as the lengthy training period, tenure, and stratification by discipline and type of institution. Prestige of one's graduate program often determines initial job placement, and a faculty member's career origin, or portal, as some researchers refer to it, influences subsequent career outcomes. Academic institutions differ substantially as to their focus on the two dominant tasks of research and teaching. Institutional attributes not only affect the rewards available to faculty but determine the potential sequence of future jobs (see Youn and Zelterman [1988]). The study proceeds as follows. The literature on academic mobility is reviewed in section II, and further theoretical literature with a relevance to academic workers is summarized in section III. Section IV describes our database, the 1988 National Survey of Post-secondary Faculty (National Center for Education Statistics, 1988), and presents descriptive information on mobility rates for faculty members in our sample, as well as a summary of stated reasons for changing positions. Section V contains our estimates of the effect of mobility and other factors on academic salary. Results are stratified by gender and tenure status. Finally, we discuss all the study's findings in section VI.


Some of the most extensive studies of academic mobility were conducted throughout the 1950s and 1960s during an era of faculty shortages. After studying faculty in chemistry, English, and economics, Marshall (1964) noted "a considerable amount of mobility" among professors (48). But Marshall's finding that associate and full professors of economics had averaged "slightly over three moves each" seems low compared to recent studies of mobility in nonacademic markets. Anantaraman (1961) concluded that economists made 64% of their career shifts during the first ten years of professional experience. Yet Lazarsfeld and Thielens (1958) determined that two-thirds of their sample of 2,000 social science faculty had, by the age of 40, held only one teaching position.

These early studies considered the relationship between mobility and such factors as rank, research productivity, age, and institutional prestige, as well as the motivation for job changes within academia. Most studies found that economic factors, to quote Marshall, were an "important but not dominant element" in academic job changes. …

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