As more and more millennials enter the workforce, companies are scrambling to figure out how to retain their younger employees. Or at least so says The Wall Street Journal, which is the latest contributor to a long line of stories in many outlets about a generation that, as the Journal puts it, “won’t stay put in a job for long.”
As the millennials say: I can’t even with this.1
The myth of the job-hopping millennial is just that — a myth. The data consistently shows that today’s young people are actually less professionally itinerant than previous generations. In fact, millennials — and the U.S. economy as a whole — would be better off if they’d live up to the stereotype and start switching jobs more often.
To support its case, the Journal (where I was a reporter from 2006 to 2013) cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that the typical worker aged 20 to 24 has been in their job for about 16 months. “For those aged 25 to 34, it was three years,” the Journal continues, “still far short of the 5.5-year median tenure for all workers age 25 and over.”
But those numbers are highly misleading. Sure, most people in their early 20s are fairly new to their jobs, but most of them are fairly new to the workforce, period.
More importantly, comparing today’s 20-somethings to today’s 30- and 40-somethings misses the point. Younger workers do tend to change jobs more often than older workers, but that’s always been true. Numbers on job tenure for Americans in their 20s were almost exactly the same in the 1980s as they are today. Monthly data tells a similar story, as the chart below shows: Every month, about 3 percent of young workers (defined here as those between 22 and 29) change jobs, compared to about 4 percent in the mid-1990s.