Jobs for life are an enduring fact

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Jobs last as long on average in the 1990s as they did in the 1970s. New research debunks the myth that the job for life is history. Diane Coyle, Economics Editor, ponders whether this means insecurity really is all in the mind.

The average length of time for which people typically hold a job has scarcely changed over the past 20 years. On average, women stay in the same job for 12 years and men for 18 years.

The averages disguise a wide range of experiences, according to research published yesterday by the Centre for Economic Policy Research. For men, 24 per cent of jobs last more than 30 years, 40 per cent more than 20 years, but 24 per cent less than five years. Among women, 18 per cent stay in jobs for more than 20 years, but 41 per cent for less than five years.

However, these proportions have changed little over the years. Author Simon Burgess, an economist at the University of Bristol, said: "There is no strong tendency for shorter job tenures."

His research also established that people with higher education are more likely to stay in jobs for only a short time. People with a degree are significantly more likely to stay in a job for less than a year and to move frequently.

Women with pre-school children are the other group most likely to have been in a given job for less than 12 months.

A comparison across countries also suggests that jobs in the flexible UK labour market last longer than in Italy. The probability that a 35- year old man working in industry has been in the same job for at least five years is 53 per cent in Britain compared to 49 per cent in Italy.

Mr Burgess said: "Fears of a dramatic change in the nature of work, and the emergence of a new industrial peasantry, are overdone."

Similar evidence was used by the Conservative government before the election to claim that job insecurity was all in the mind. However, the new papers concede that insecurity might have other dimensions.

For example, the risk of unemployment has risen since the mid-1970s. Insecurity could also reveal itself in longer working hours, lower pay rises or shorter contracts, even if they are normally renewed.