Is the company man an anachronism? Trends in long-term employment in the united states, 1973 to 2006

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Abstract

The typical characterization of a work career is that after some turnover early on, most workers find a more or less lifetime job. However, this trajectory has been challenged in the last twenty years as large corporations have engaged in highly publicized layoffs and the industrial structure of the U.S. economy has shifted in the face of global competition. To the extent that there has been a substantial change in career employment dynamics, young workers who entered the labor force in recent years and those who enter in the future will face a very different type of career path than their parents. In this study, I examine evidence on job durations from 1973 through 2006 to determine the extent to which the structure of careers and the likelihood of long-term employment have changed. I use Current Population Survey (CPS) data from 1973 to 2006 that contain information on how long workers have been employed by their current firm. Specifically, I examine the length of employment relationships for different birth cohorts from 1914 through 1981. The evolution of careers in the United States has played out in the context of dramatic growth in employment over the last forty years. Civilian employment rose from 85.1 million in 1973 to 144.4 million in 2006.1 Thus, almost 60 million jobs have been created on net in the past thirtythree years, for an average rate of employment growth of 1.6 percent per year. Despite this record of sustained employment growth, there is longstanding concern that the quality of jobs is deteriorating. This concern arises in part from the declining share of manufacturing employment.2 As high-quality jobs, both in manufacturing and in the service sector, are lost, the concern is that they are being replaced by low-quality, servicesector jobs (so-called hamburger-flipping jobs). The high-quality jobs are characterized by relatively high wages, full-time employment, substantial fringe benefits, and, perhaps most important, substantial job security (low rates of turnover). The low-quality jobs are characterized disproportionately by relatively low wages, part-time employment, an absence of fringe benefits, and low job security (high rates of turnover). The perceived low quality of many newly created jobs fuels the concern that the nature of the employment relationship in the United States is changing from one based on long-term, full-time employment to one based on short-term and casual employment as employers move toward greater reliance on temporary workers, subcontractors, and part-time workers. This shift may be occurring because employers need to remain flexible in the face of greater uncertainty about product demand and to avoid increasingly expensive fringe benefits and long-term obligations to workers. The results of the analysis in this chapter show that by virtually any measure more recent cohorts of male workers have been with their current employer for less time at specific ages. Interestingly, while mean tenure has fallen sharply for men and men are less likely to be in longterm jobs, the pattern is different for women. There has been some increase in job tenure and long-term employment for women, reflecting their increased commitment to the labor market. In more recent years, however, this trend has been offset by the overall decline in the availability of long-term jobs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Price of Independence
Subtitle of host publicationThe Economics of Early Adulthood
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Pages56-83
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9780871543165
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)

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    Farber, H. S. (2008). Is the company man an anachronism? Trends in long-term employment in the united states, 1973 to 2006. In The Price of Independence: The Economics of Early Adulthood (pp. 56-83). Russell Sage Foundation.