No Decline in Long Term Employment
According to Ann Huff Stevens there has been no decline in long term employment here in the United States. The popular story in the media and elsewhere is that the old notion that people will work for a single employer for the bulk of their career is now out dated and that workers now face more uncertainty when it comes to job security (link, link, link, link, link). However, in looking at the data, this notion of less job security and greater uncertainty just isn’t there.
Stevens research indicates that in the golden olden days of 1969 the average tenure of men in the job they held the longest was 21.9 years. In the bad, scary, uncertain days of 2002, that had declined to 21.4 years. Admittedly, the length the longest tenure with an employer did increase to 24 years during the 1970s and has, obviously, declined since then.
Stevens uses data from surveys of men aged 58-62 who were quizzed at the end of their working careers. She finds that in 1969 the average tenure for men in the job they held for the longest period during their careers was 21.9 years. In 2002, the comparable figure was 21.4 years, not much different. Just more than half of men ending their careers in 1969 had been with a single employer for at least 20 years; the same was true in 2002. Around a quarter of those men retiring, anytime in the 1969-2002 period, had stayed with a single employer for 30 or more years.
Looking at the data in more detail, Stevens finds that educated men tend to have longer tenure than less-educated men, that is, men with less than a high school education. The average tenure in the job held longest for those with less than 12 years of completed education was about 21 years in 1969, and 18.6 years in 2002. Tenure for men with 12 or more years of education stood at 22.4 years in 1969 and 22.05 in 2002. Further, non-whites have an average tenure below the comparable measures for white men.
Stevens’ findings for the most recent years reflect the career outcomes for the generation of men approaching retirement age in 2002. Whether this level of stability will apply to subsequent generations of men depends on the continued evolution of job retention rates. Job retention rates declined in the 1990s, but it is not yet clear whether these declines will persist. Only with relatively long-lasting reductions in job retention rates will individuals experience corresponding reductions in completed tenure on their longest jobs.
In her paper, Stevens looks at whether job stability during the 1969-2002 period was affected by increased early retirement of men, a rise in average education levels, and the differing numbers of those taking years off from civilian work to serve in the military. But, she concludes that these factors do not bias her major finding, that job stability has remained relatively steady in that period.
In short, this idea that job security no longer exists or has been seriously eroded is highly dubious. It is possible that things will get steadily worse and that someday job security does indeed become a myth, but there is little evidence to support this view right now.