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September 2003, Vol. 126, No. 9
An examination of occupational mobility among full-time workers
Paul E. Gabriel
There is extensive literature on the
processes that influence the occupational
choices of workers.1 However, less attention is devoted to examining the rate at which workers move from one occupation to another. Fortunately, the availability of panel data sets makes it possible to measure the extent that workers shift jobs within the occupational distribution over time. This study explores recent trends in occupational mobility among full-time wage and salary workers in the United States as they move from young labor market entrants to their approach to mid-career. Our objective is to determine if their occupational mobility rates changed over time, and then to compare occupational mobility rates by gender.
The results of our analysis can provide an additional perspective on the recent increase in wage disparities between high- and low-income workers, an increase that has been well documented.2 In terms of equity, the recent increase in earnings inequality is generally viewed with concern among policymakers. However, several studies have suggested that an increase in labor-market mobility may actually counterbalance the growth in earnings inequality.3 This argument asserts that flexible labor markets provide ample opportunity for upward (and downward) mobility. Consequently, if an increase in the propensity of low-wage workers moves into higher-paying occupations, lifetime earnings inequality may be reduced in spite of increases in annual cross-sectional measures of labor-market inequality.
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1 Peter J. Schmidt and Robert P. Strauss, "The Prediction of Occupation using Multiple Logit Models," International Economic Review, June 1975, pp. 471–86; Randall S. Brown, Marilyn Moon, and Barbara Zoloth, "Occupational Attainment and Segregation by Sex," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, July 1980, pp. 506–17; Paul E. Gabriel, Donald R. Williams, and Susanne Schmitz, "The Relative Occupational Attainment of Young Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics," Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 57, No. 1, 1990, pp. 35–46.
2 Maury Gittleman and Mary Joyce, "Earnings Mobility in the United States, 1967–91," Monthly Labor Review, September 1995, pp. 3–13; "A Brief Look at Postwar U.S. Income Inequality," Current Population Reports (U.S. Census Bureau, 1996), pp. 60–191; Peter Gottschalk, "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspective, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1997, pp. 21–40; Peter Gottschalk and Timothy M. Smeeding, "Cross-National Comparisons of Earnings and Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 35, 1997, pp. 633–87; Richard Dickens, "Caught in a Trap? Wage Mobility in Great Britain: 1975–1994," Economica, Vol. 67, November 2000, pp. 477–97.
3 Bradley R. Schiller, "Relative Earnings Redux: Youth Mobility in the 1980s," Review of Income and Wealth, Vol. 40, No. 4, December 1994, pp. 441–56; P.J. Sloane and I. Theodossiou, "Earnings Mobility, Family Income, and Low Pay," The Economic Journal, Vol. 106, 1996, pp. 657–66; Stephen Rose, "Is Mobility in the United States Still Alive? Tracking Career Opportunities and Income Growth," International Review of Applied Economics, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1999, pp. 417–36.
Related BLS programs
National Longitudinal Surveys
Earnings mobility in the United States, 1967-91.—Sept. 1995.
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