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Young workers’ job tenure similar to rates of the past: research

Despite the wave of job resignations spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, young adult workers in the United States have reported similar job tenure over the past 40 years.
Workers sitting around table.

Story at a glance

  • Millennial and Gen Z workers are known to switch jobs, and many took advantage of the heightened labor demand earlier this year.

  • However, similar rates of young workers tend to stay in the same job for around the same amount of time today as they did in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • An exception to this trend was the Great Recession in the 2010s, which saw higher rates of workers stay with their current employers. 

Job tenure rates among young American workers are similar to those recorded in the past four decades, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

The finding follow previous reports detailing the job-hopping habits of Millennial and Gen Z workers that gained popularity earlier this year thanks to pandemic-era job vacancies and inflation-adjusted wages. 

The Great Resignation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic also saw more young adults quit their jobs than their older co-workers. Pew researchers set out to determine whether this shake-up led to less job tenure compared with rates reported in the past.

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An analysis of U.S. government job tenure data revealed 44 percent of workers between the ages 18 and 34 reported in January that they had worked for their current employer for at least three years. 

That total has remained relatively steady since 1983. 

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 saw a slightly higher number of workers reporting a longer job tenure as employers hired fewer employees and workers shied away from changing jobs at that time, researchers wrote.

But by 2016, 43 percent “of young workers reported being with their current employer at least three years, representing a return to the average over the past 40 years and similar to the percentage today,” they added. 

With the exception of the Great Recession, young workers are not changing employers more often than their predecessors. This has economic implications, as workers who stay with employers longer tend to have increased earnings.

Another 40 percent of young workers report being with their employer for one year or less, again mirroring patterns of earlier years.

Despite the high voluntary quit rates documented during the Great Resignation, researchers hypothesize this spike could have been offset by employers looking to hold onto workers by not laying off or firing them, they explained. This factor could have contributed to the small overall change in how long young workers stay with their jobs.

In 2020 and 2022, the median worker between the ages 25 and 34 had been in their current job for 2.8 years, while in 1983 that median was recorded at three years.

However, data show variation based on job type and demographics. 

For example, more young workers today have management and professional roles than in the 1980s and these workers tend to stay in their positions longer, researchers wrote. 

Recent data show workers in 2022 are quitting some industries more than others, as fast food workers, waiters and chefs are quitting at a higher rate than any other workers across industries. 

In addition, today’s workforce consists of more Hispanic workers who tend to have a shorter job tenure than young adults overall, while more women are part of the workforce and tend to have shorter tenure than men, Pew found.

“Women account for 49% of young employees today, up from 47% in 1983. In 2022, 41% of young women have been on the job three years or more, compared with 46% of young men,” authors wrote.

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