Executive summary

With the leading edge of the baby boom generation now in their mid-sixties, there is considerable interest in how and when these individuals will retire. To help place this issue in a broader context, this paper provides information on the employment histories of individuals who were aged 33 to 38 in 1983 and aged 60 to 65 in 2010.

The longest duration of employment held by these individuals is the central organizing concept for the analysis. Workers are categorized according to the longest job in which they are observed over the 28-year period, with summary measures provided on their years employed, annual earnings, cumulative earnings, job turnover, layoffs, pensionable service, and other characteristics.

Beginning with individuals whose longest job lasted five years or less, summary measures indicate that their labour force attachment was typically quite limited. Individuals in this group had earnings of $1,000 or more in about 7 to 9 years of the 28 years. By definition, all jobs were fairly short, with the longest job averaging 3.3 years and the second-longest averaging about 2.5 years. Over half (57%) of all jobs held by individuals in this group were observed for no more than one year. Individuals in this group typically exited their longest job at age 45, and were last observed with earnings at about 49 years of age. Cumulative earnings over the 28-year period were modest, about $111,200 and $57,000 at the median among men and women, respectively. Overall, this group—termed ‘marginally attached workers’—accounted for about 10% of individuals in the cohort.

Individuals whose longest job was observed for 6 to 11 years differ in important ways from the marginally attached workers above. Although the average duration of their longest job was less than 9 years, individuals in this group had fairly sustained involvement in the workforce. On average, they had earnings of $1,000 or more in almost 20 of the 28 years, and were last observed with earnings at about 58 years of age. In spite of this workforce attachment, individuals in this group typically worked for almost nine different employers over the period. In this respect, they experienced considerable employment mobility. Some of their jobs ended involuntarily, with layoffs more prevalent among men than among women. On average, men in this group experienced 2.8 permanent layoffs and 2.6 temporary layoffs over the period, and received Employment Insurance income in 5.7 years. During the years they worked, average annual earnings at the median in this group were around $36,200 among men and $19,500 among women. Further up the earnings distribution (80th percentile), men appear to have fared better with average annual earnings of about $60,300. Overall, individuals in this group—termed ‘mobile workers’—had sustained workforce participation and relatively high job mobility over much of their working lives. They accounted for about 25% of employed individuals in the cohort.

Finally, about two-thirds of the individuals in the cohort were ‘long-term-job holders’, identified as those whose longest job lasted 12 years or more; in fact, most worked for the same firm or organization for far longer, often 20 years or more. Long-term-job holders typically worked for about three to six different employers over the period. Their working lives were generally characterized by considerable stability, as most individuals in this group (over 50%) did not experience any permanent or temporary layoffs over the 28-year period. Annual and cumulative earnings were considerably higher among this group than among mobile workers. Moreover, while mobile workers typically accumulated 3 to 4 years of pensionable service over the 20 years for which data are available, longer-term-job holders typically accumulated 7 to 13 years. Among men, about three-quarters of those in long-term jobs were employed in the private sector, while about one-quarter were employed in the public sector (i.e., federal, provincial, or municipal government) or the near-public sector (i.e., education, health care, and social services). The public and near-public sectors were more significant sources of long-term employment for women in the cohort.

Finally, evidence suggests that there has not been any decline in the incidence of long-term employment over time or, conversely, any increase in the frequency of job changes.