Americans staying longer on the job

Americans are staying at their jobs longer but the average length of time on the job for American workers in 2012 was just 5.4 years, up from 5.2 years in 2010 and 5 years in 1983, according to new research from the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

The median tenure for male wage and salary workers was lower in 2012 at 5.5 years, compared with 5.9 years in 1983. In contrast, the median tenure for female wage and salary workers increased from 4.2 years in 1983 to 5.4 years in 2012. Consequently, the long-term increase in the median tenure of female workers more than offsets the decline in the median tenure of male workers, leaving the overall level slightly higher over the long-term.

Even among older male workers (ages 55–64), who experienced the largest change in their median tenure, the median tenure fell from a level that would not normally be considered a career—14.7 years in 1963—to 10.7 years in 2012.

“Career-long jobs never existed for most workers,” said Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate and author of the report. “Historically, most workers have repeatedly changed jobs during their working careers, and all evidence suggests that they will continue to do so in the future.” 

The historical data show that the U.S. workforce has always had relatively low median tenure: The idea of holding a full-career job and retiring with the proverbial “gold watch” is a myth for most people.

Copeland added that the overall trend of higher job tenure masks a small but significant decrease in median tenure among men (despite its increasing in recent years), which has been offset by an increase in median tenure among women. He added that the once-striking gap between long-tenure public and private sector workers is beginning to narrow.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute is a private, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on health, savings, retirement and economic security issues.


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