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March 22, 2001
Job Stability Up For Women, Down For Men
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ardless of the current economic slump and recent economic boom, job tenure among American workers has been increasing for women and decreasing for men, resulting in little overall change, new research shows.

An article featured in the March Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) Notes finds that underlying economic conditions, which appear to have changed in the latter part of the 20th century, may play an important role in the interpretation of recent job tenure data. The article analyzes these data, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and discusses their implications for the retirement security of American workers and their families.

Recent research shows two distinct tenure trends: a general decline in median tenure for all male age groups, versus an overall increase in tenure for female employees. The net effect across all workers was a slight decrease in tenure levels. Despite this overall decline, however, recent tenure figures remain comparable with those of past decades.

Specifically, over the 1983-2000 period, the fraction of all wage and salary workers with two years or less of tenure with their current employer was in the 36 percent to 39 percent range. Job tenure for males fell for all age groups from 1983 to 2000, but has leveled out the past couple of years. Job tenure for virtually all female age groups has been rising since 1951, and has risen the most for women in the 45-54 age group.

EBRI President Dallas Salisbury noted that the report illustrates that job tenure data are not necessarily a good yardstick to gauge employment security, unless underlying economic factors are also considered. For instance, he said, many analysts may regard increases in employee tenure as a sign of improving job security and decreasing tenure as a sign of a decline in job security, when in fact the opposite could be true.

"An increase in employee tenure may reflect lower overall job security if it occurs during a recession, when relatively junior workers lose their jobs more rapidly than do workers with longer tenure," Salisbury said.

"Conversely, a decrease in employee tenure can result during economic expansion, particularly in a tight labor market, as more job opportunities become available and experienced workers find better jobs."

Salisbury added: "The point is that these data need to be evaluated with care and simplistic assumptions should be avoided."
Some of the study's major findings:
  • Median tenure for prime age (25-64 years) working males increased from 1951 to 1983 for all age categories. From 1983 to 2000, employee tenure declined by more than five years (from 15.3 years to 10.2 years) for male workers ages 55-64; by 3.3 years (from 12.8 years to 9.5 years) for males ages 45-54; and by nearly two years (from 7.3 years to 5.4 years) for male workers ages 35-44. Male tenure figures since 1998 have been relatively stable.

  • Tenure levels among women rose in every age category from 1951 to 2000. Since 1983, tenure increases were most evident within the 45-54 age group, increasing by one year over the 17-year period. Tenure rose by less than six months for women ages 35-44, and declined for women ages 25-34. It was marginally higher for women ages 55-64.

  • The fraction of all wage and salary workers with 20 or more years of tenure with their current employer climbed slowly but steadily throughout the 1990s to just above 10 percent in 2000.

  • Employee tenure levels and trends differ markedly between the public and private sectors. Data for the period 1983-2000 indicate that not only were tenure levels much higher in the public sector than in the private sector but the sectors almost always moved in opposite directions.

By the end of the period, public-sector tenure levels were more than double those of the private sector. Part of the explanation for the absolute gap is that government workers tend to be older than workers in private industries.

In addition, public-sector workers are less likely to be laid off or to be affected by cyclical factors than may be the case in some private-sector industries such as construction or wholesale and retail trade.

EBRI is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization based in Washington, DC.

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