Americans Change Jobs Frequently

The image of a loyal employee spending a lifetime with a single employer—and then retiring with the proverbial gold watch—is simply a notion, as career jobs have never existed for most workers, and still do not, according to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

The study, written by EBRI senior research associate Craig Copeland, found that the median tenure of workers—or the midpoint of wage and salary workers’ duration of employment in their current job—was virtually unchanged over the past 25 years, at 5.1 years in 2008, compared with 5.0 years in 1983. The study is based on data from the January 2008 Supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) and compares 2008 results with previous CPS trends on employee tenure.

The findings further indicated that differences in tenure can be found based on various factors, including gender, age, and sector of employment. For example, the analysis showed that the median tenure for male wage and salary workers decreased from 5.9 years in 1983 to 5.2 years in 2008, while the median tenure for female wage and salary workers rose from 4.2 years in 1983 to 4.9 years in 2008. Copeland further observed that the highest median tenure level for any age group, at 15.3 years in 1983 for males aged 55 to 64, “certainly does not cover an entire lifetime career, as the median worker would not have started his or her current job until after age 40.”


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