Employee Tenure: Stable Overall, but Male and Female Trends Differ;
Facts from EBRI: Compensation Costs, Private and State/Local Public Sectors

March 2005, Vol. 26, No. 3
Paperback, 16 pp.
PDF, 672 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2005

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Executive Summary

Employee Tenure: Stable Overall, but Male and Female Trends Differ

Data on employee tenure—the amount of time an individual has been with his or her current employer—show that career jobs never did exist for most workers and have continued not to exist for most workers. Although data on tenure do not measure workers’ security (generally defined as the workers’ perception of being able to continue in their present job), they do show stability (the actual length of time workers have been with their current employer).

Median Tenure: Workers median tenure—the midpoint of wage and salary workers’ length of employment in their present job—was virtually unchanged from 1983 to 2004: 4.9 years in 2004, compared with 5.0 years in 1983. Even among older male workers (ages 55–64), who experienced the largest change in their median tenure, the median tenure fell from 14.7 years in 1963 (not considered a full career) to a roughly comparable but clearly lower level of 10.0 years in 2004.

Gender: The median tenure for the oldest working males (ages 55–64) declined steadily from a peak of 15.3 years in 1983 to 10.0 years in 2004. The 25–34-year-old male tenure line was virtually flat, at three years. For females, the median tenure was flat to increasing across all age groups. The largest increase was among females ages 55–64, whose median tenure increased from 7.8 years in 1963 to 9.3 years in 2004.

Private/Public Sectors: Among all wage and salary workers age 20 or older, the median tenure level held steady at 4.0 years or slightly more from 1983 to 2004. Private-sector workers’ median tenure also held steady over that period, at around 3.6 years; however, the median tenure for public-sector workers increased from 6.0 years in 1983 to 7.5 years in 1998 before declining to 7.0 years in 2004. Over this two-decade period, median job tenure in the public sector increased significantly relative to the private sector, and currently is about 80 percent higher than that of the private sector.

These tenure results indicate that, historically, most workers have repeatedly changed jobs during their working careers, and all evidence suggests that workers will continue to do so in the future. Since the median length of employment for all wage and salary workers is currently just 4.9 years, and has not changed appreciably since 1983, a minority of American workers are likely to receive a significant benefit from a defined benefit pension, as was the case in the past.