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Employment Patterns and Determinants Among Older Individuals with a History of Short‐Duration Jobs

Kevin E. Cahill, Michael D. Giandrea, and Joseph F. Quinn


Many studies of labor force withdrawal patterns have focused on individuals who have had career jobs. This paper compares the demographic and economic characteristics of individuals who have never had a full-time career (FTC) job with those who have, and compares the timing and types of job switches that both groups make later in life. The comparison between non-FTC and FTC individuals is important because decisions by policymakers based on the existing retirement literature may have unintended consequences for individuals with only a series of short-duration jobs. We use a sample of respondents from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) who have worked since age 50, and stratify respondents according to whether an individual has ever had a job that consists of 1,600 or more hours per year and lasts for at least ten years (i.e., a full-time career job). We find that individuals without FTC jobs are a heterogeneous group, representing individuals in many wage and occupational categories. Not surprisingly, we also find that individuals without FTC jobs are less likely than those with FTC jobs to be working in subsequent survey years. However, we find that the labor force withdrawal patterns of non-FTC individuals are similar to those of FTC individuals in many respects. In particular, individuals without FTC jobs change jobs later in life just as frequently as those with FTC jobs. Switching rates between wage-and-salary employment to self-employment and between white-collar and blue-collar jobs are largely similar by FTC status, as are reductions in wages later in life. Overall, the findings reveal that the work decisions later in life of individuals who have never had career employment are diverse, just as they are for individuals with career jobs.