Job switching among Baby Boomers

I’m teaching Labor Economics this Fall for the first time, which means I’m constantly in search of interesting ways to get students to think about how we study questions of why people work, why they get hired, how firms decide how much labor to hire, and more. In one of these quests this afternoon, I found a BLS report from July outlining duration and number of jobs held by later period Baby Boomers (born 1957-1964) over their lifetimes.

It’s a short, descriptive report and the numbers come from the NLSY79, which is a fantastic longitudinal study of employment and educational outcomes, families and more. What I found so interesting about the report is that it shows that baby boomers, on average, held 11.3 jobs over their working lives. That number struck me as high. Even though about half of those jobs were held before age 24 (think summer jobs, part-time jobs while in school), there’s still a lot of switching over 30-40 working years. And it runs contrary to the narrative that I’ve both heard and repeated, which says that our parents were likely to take one job and keep it throughout until they retired, while my generation (which is unclear to me–too old to be a Millenial, but feel too young to be Gen X), is more likely to have switch jobs often and have shorter tenures at each job.

Of course, we can’t really compare the lifelong numbers until my generation is much older, but I wonder how much that narrative is perception (because we have the closest experience to more volatile period of the ages of 18-24), or because we actually enjoy less job security.

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