Is the Company Man an Anachronism? Trends in Long Term Employment in the U.S. , 1973-2006


The wave of corporate downsizing in the 1990s focused attention on the role
of long-term employment relationships in the United States. Given 1) the importance
that these relationships have played historically, 2) the general view that
long-term jobs are “good jobs,” and 3) the suspicion that long-term employment
relationships are becoming less common, I carry out a systematic investigation
of the extent to which long-term employment relationships have, in fact, become
less common. Specifically, I examine age-specific changes in the length of employment
relationships for different birth cohorts from 1914-1981 using data from
various supplements to the Current Population Survey (CPS) from 1973 through
2006. After controlling for demographic characteristics, I find that mean tenure
and the fraction of workers reporting at least ten and at least twenty years of
tenure have both fallen substantially. This decline is concentrated among men,
while long-term employment relationships have became slightly more common
among women. Mirroring this decline in tenure and long-term employment relationships,
there has been an increase in “churning” (defined as the proportion of
workers in jobs with less than one year of tenure) for males as they enter their
thirties and later. This pattern suggests that more recent cohorts are less likely
than their parents to have a career characterized by a “life-time” job with a single

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