Jobs are more secure than people think

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The Independent Online
JOB INSECURITY really is mostly in the mind - just as the Conservatives claimed, to great scorn, ahead of last year's general election. This is the conclusion of an adviser to Gordon Brown, in a study of changes in the typical length of time people stay in a job, published today.

Paul Gregg, a Treasury adviser on job-market issues, and his colleague, Jonathan Wadsworth, found that the typical length of time an average worker had been in a job had barely changed between 1985 and 1995. It had declined by just four months to five years and two months. And this typical person can expect a job to last as long again, as most jobs last for just over 10 years.

Yet the sense of insecurity remains high, with less than half the workforce believing their job is secure, compared with about two-thirds in the depths of the recession.

The virtually static picture reported in the new research consists of three separate trends. Older men have suffered the biggest fall in job tenure, with the typical male over 50 having been in the same job for 12 years and 10 months in 1995 compared to 15 years and 10 months a decade earlier.

But women under 50, and especially those with children, have seen their job tenure increase over the same decade from just under two years to just over three years in the case of 25- to 34-year-olds with dependent children.

On top of these two divergent trends for older men and younger women, the ageing of the population has helped increase job tenure because older workers have been in the same position for longer and quit less often than young ones.

Since older men are the least likely group to have quit voluntarily, they have been the victims of the shake-out across much of British industry. "For this group at least, then, the end of the belief in a job for life is something whose passing is mourned," the authors say.

But Messrs Gregg and Wadsworth, writing in the latest issue of Centrepiece, the magazine of the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, conclude: "The scale of the changes taking place is relatively small. It is not at all clear that they are substantial enough to justify public perceptions."

In other words, the Conservatives were right in their claim that there was little evidence to back up the sense of increasing insecurity. Whatever it stems from, it is not, for most of us, the increased risk of having to leave a job.