Academic journal article Generations

The Changing Landscape of Work

Academic journal article Generations

The Changing Landscape of Work

Article excerpt

When one travels long distances in a car, the landscape often looks similar over time. Yes, cities and communities come and go, but the basic background seems to stay the same. Then suddenly, one notices that everything has changed. The barren red desert dotted with cactus and shrubs has turned into mountains with aspen forests, or the rolling hills have turned into fladands for as far as the eye can see. When did the change occur? Often it is so gradual that it escapes immediate notice.

So it is with the landscape of work. We mark the turn of the century, we take note of new inventions or occupations, industries, and work priorities. But escaping our eye, though they have been upon us for some time, are changes in the very basic tenets of work. Will we now take notice?

A major ongoing study of the changing landscape of work is now under way at the Families and Work Institute. By asking many of the same questions, the study builds on another earlier study, the Quality of Employment Survey, last conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1977 (Quinn and Staines, 1979). Our study, the National Study of the Changing Workforce, is conducted every five years with representative samples of the U.S. workforce, averaging about 3,500 in size. The first was done in 1992, the second in 1997, the third in 2002 (Galinsky, Bond, and Friedman, 1993; Bond, Galinsky, and Swanberg, 1998; Bond et al., 2003), and now the fourth in 2007.

How are employees 50 and older faring? Are they doing better or worse than their younger counterparts? (In 1977, the Quality of Employment Survey only included respondents who worked 20 hours per week or more, so all comparisons between the 1977 and 2002 workforces are made by restricting the 2002 sample to those who worked 20 or more hours per week.)


The workforce is aging. That, of course, is no surprise. In 1977, some 37 percent of wage and salaried employees were under 30 years old, and another 24 percent were under age 40, making younger workers the clear majority (61 percent). In 2002, only 22 percent were under 30 and anodier 22 percent were under 40, representing only 44 percent of the workforce.

In 1977, some 21 percent of employees were 50 and older, while in 2002 that figure had risen to 27 percent. If one includes those 40 and older, the difference is even more dramatic-a change from 39 percent in 1977 to 56 percent in 2002. These employees-baby-boomers-were in the majority when they entered the workforce and are still in the majority as they begin the process of moving out of the workforce. As this large cohort continues to transform societal institutions, no doubt the changes that they will bring to aging in America will be huge.

Another change is that the workforce is increasingly more diverse. Again, this comes as no surprise. In 1977, women represented 42 percent of the wage and salaried workforce, while in 2002, women and men were very close to being at parity (48 percent women and 52 percent men).

In 1977, only 12 percent of employees were people of color, compared with 21 percent in 2002. Given the diversity of younger employees, these percentages will continue to climb. Among employees 50 and older, 17 percent are currendy people of color, indicating that although the employee population was more homogenous twenty-five years ago when today's older employees were new entrants to the workforce, older workers have become a more diverse group over time. Nonetheless, it is clear that a more diverse younger workforce will be supporting a less diverse aging population.

The workforce is also better educated, especially women. In 1977, only 18 percent of employees had four-year college degrees or more. By 2002, that figure had readied 30 percent. However, beneath those 2002 statistics is a story of gender differences. While men so and older are more likely (38 percent) than women (28 percent) to have completed college or have other higher degrees, the opposite is true for those under 50. …

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