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Are Older Workers Job Hopping More?


Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, is a weekly contributor to “Encore.”

The labor force participation of older workers has reversed its long-run decline.  A larger share of this group wants to work longer.  This shift reflects the changing incentives in Social Security and employer-sponsored plans, the improved education, health and longevity of today’s workers, less physically-demanding jobs, the need to wait for Medicare in the face of rapidly rising health care costs, and the joint decision-making of married couples.  More older workers in the labor market is good news given the combination of a contracting retirement income system and increased life expectancy.

But another trend has also surfaced – older workers are increasingly moving from one job to another – and it’s not clear whether it is good news or bad news.  One clear measure of that increased mobility is the decline in tenure.  In 1983, average tenure of men age 55-64 was 15.3 years; by 2008 it had declined to 10.1 years.  (I am focusing on 2008 rather than 2010 to separate long-term trends from the effect of the Great Recession.)  Tenure was down across the board, but the decline among older workers was most pronounced.

An even more direct way to show the decline in career employment is to see how many work­ers toward the end of their careers are still with the employer they had at age 50.  The Figure classifies men 58-62 in 1983 and 2008 as: a) working full-time with the same employer as at age 50; b) working full-time with a different employer; or c) working part-time.  The portion each year working part-time and working full time was virtually identical.  But the distribution of full-time workers changed dramatically.  In 1983, 63% of men 58-62 were with their age-50 employer; by 2008, that figure had dropped to 47%.  Career employment is more common among workers with more education.  But the shift away from career employment is consistent across educational groups.

Click on the icon to your right for the “Employment Status” chart.

Is the increased mobility voluntary?  The short answer is we don’t know.  On the one hand, data on displacement rates, which report layoffs for reasons other than job performance, have not increased for older workers.  These data would suggest that separations of older workers are largely due to quits, not layoffs.  The distinction between layoffs and quits, however, is not always clear.  Employers can reduce a worker’s compensation or increase job demands.  Workers could also feel insecure in their current job, due to technological change or increased competition, especially from overseas.  If workers quit in response to such pressures, they would be leaving on their own volition, but the decline of career employment could not be characterized as a positive development.

Is increased mobility of older workers helpful or harmful to working longer?  The new jobs generally pay less and are less likely to offer pension and health insurance coverage. This fall in wages and benefits makes continued employment less attractive vis-à-vis retirement.  On the other hand, workers who shift jobs often report less stress and an increase in job satisfaction that makes work more attractive vis-à-vis retirement.  The fall in wages and benefits also reduces household wealth, and this “wealth effect” also encourages con­tinued employment.  How workers respond depends on the strength of these various effects.

While the long-term impact of older workers shifting jobs is ambiguous, the short-term implications are not.  The average duration of unemployment for those in their 50s is now more than a year.  Older workers are safer with their current employer than scurrying around the labor market trying to find a new job.


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    • Thanks for sharing about this gym. I had my first training session right now. :)

    • I believe where there is a will there is a way for an employer to get rid of older workers. I worked for a Public Entity for a number of years, full and part-time job, simultaneously. Formal complaint was filed with the company on those with less seniority being given more opportunities, but to no avail. EEOC charge was filed and I became a target. Later, accommodation was needed and requested for my scheduled surgery, but I was denied. Another EEOC charge was filed and I was LAID off, last year, a few months before my 60Th birth date. The younger males with less seniority are stilling working and have been given the part-time hours that I was working. There were other female workers over age fifty, some with a diability, who were sweeped out the door with me – “LAID OFF”. Thank God for the president extending UNEMPLOYMENT! I am still trying to pay off my student loan for my master degree that I earned at age of fifty.

    • I meant ten thousand a year.. to someone unemployed not ten thousand a month. but you get my thought. It is just stupid how all of this is playing out.unfortunately the circle has been drawn the pattern is flowing. If we keep the money here then another economy will fall taking the rest if we spend the money there the economy will fall taking us. With ten percent. ( I personally think that if the percentage of the us population on food stamps is fifteen percent then taking into account the regulations in order to qualify for them that the real unemployment is someplace around thirty percent) now with the tax revenue losses that will start showing up in December will or should show a several trillion dollar decline. Needless to say just like the shop owner if we aren’t spending then taxes can’t be collected on sales. If we aren’t making any money then taxes can’t be paid in from employers for income tax and social security and med. that is around thirty percent right there. Now road state federal and city taxes either. by the time you figure them all up it adds up to around sixty five cents on the dollar. Just a thought.. and unless they just start shoving money in peoples hands make it so anyone unemployed can get benefits but then make it so they have to work so many hours a week for them. Oh well it is a dead horse.. I shouldn’t kick it..

    • Wow.. The companies around here are trying to downsize. The plan.. Get rid of the employee’s fifty and above with benefits and hire the younger replacement workers for less and part time without benefits. Then the big thing is they deny unemployment benefits so that their rates don’t go up. I was in a conversation with a shop owner who was talking about how they have to find a way to increase sales. I said it made sense because our budgeted expense for that shop was five hundred a month and when the employment ended we spent maybe a hundred dollars in nine months leaving them down about five thousand. now five more are in the exact same boat within walking distance so if they spent the same amount at the store the gross sales would be down about twenty five thousand.
      The you find out that businesses aren’t hiring people fifty to sixty five. Instead of giving all the money to the wealthy they should be creating jobs here. rebuilding the infrastructure and strengthening the Great country we live in. Instead you hear on the news all the time how we gave this man or that country this many billions we spend billions on wars that have now end and give the wealthiest the biggest breaks all in the hope that they will spread the wealth. we all know that wealthy people don’t spread the wealth but give ten thousand a month to someone unemployed and they will spend it to stay alive.

    • We at, have seen this trend, but it is often from a part time or temporary to another part time or temporary job. When an older worker moves from a full time job to a part time or temporary job it is usually because he/she no longer wishes to work full time and does not need the benefits.

      More and more employers are hiring experienced older workers for part time and temporary assignments as they need less training, and provide a better work ethic. Also employers do not need to pay benefits in most cases or unemployment insurance and can off board at will employees with littlemor no expense.

      We are seeing a large number of job postings for these kinds of jobs by comparison to several years ago.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.