WASHINGTON, DC — Workers who frequently change employers risk negative consequences to their paychecks, according to new research published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.
To determine the impact of career mobility on worker's wages, sociologist Sylvia Fuller of the University of British Columbia examined data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, tracking nearly 6,000 workers during their first 12 years in the labor market.
Despite the frequent job moves made by young Americans today, Fuller's research suggests that workers who frequently change jobs generally end up earning less than their more stable counterparts.
"The past 30 years have seen the erosion of long-term employment, and young people are increasingly told to expect ongoing employer changes throughout their careers," said Fuller. "However, this research examines the cumulative changes workers make, or are forced to make, and demonstrates that these career moves may not always result in higher earnings."
By and large any benefits of job mobility accrue mainly in a worker's early career. Fuller finds that both men and women typically experience substantial mobility during their early careers, although women change employers slightly less frequently than men.
Fuller's research indicates that mobility can be a wage asset when it is concentrated in the early years of employment and not coupled with layoffs, discharges, employment gaps or family-related leave. In this case, moderate or even high levels of mobility can lead to equal or better wage outcomes than stability.
Aside from this exception, Fuller finds that wage outcomes deteriorate as mobility rises.
One reason for lower wage trajectories among high-mobility workers is their failure to accumulate valuable early tenure associated with staying up to five years with an employer. In the first five years of a job, each year of tenure is associated with approximately 2.4 percent higher wages for men and 2.9 percent higher wages for women. However, after five years with an employer, women's gains from tenure plateau and men's begin to erode.
Fuller also found that high-mobility workers tend to spend a greater proportion of time not employed and, all else being equal, a greater proportion of their job changes are the result of layoffs.
Men are laid off or discharged more frequently than women, yet they leave jobs for family reasons less often. Regardless of gender differences, these reasons for job changes—layoffs, discharges and leave for family reasons—are all cause for lower wages because they tend to result in periods of unemployment.
In addition to the negative consequences of unemployment, Fuller noted stigmas associated with discharges for both genders, and for family-related job separations for women.
Family situation did not impact women alone. Married men and fathers experienced better wage outcomes when changing jobs than single men and those without children.
Married men were also penalized less for discharges than are unmarried men, as were men with children relative to those without (although the difference in the latter case is small). However, married men and those with children face substantially higher wage penalties when laid off for the first time.
Given the high volume of rhetoric associated with job mobility today, Fuller suggests that additional research may show less stigma attached to frequent job changes for the generation now entering the workforce.
Sylvia Fuller is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia.
For a copy of the study or to request an interview, contact Jackie Cooper (202-247-9871, firstname.lastname@example.org