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Occupational Mobility of Workers

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Report Number Special Labor Force Report 176

Special Labor Force Report shows that 8.7 percent of workers changed occupations between January 1972 and January 1973

NUMEROUS STUDIES1 of occupational mobility have been done in recent decades by both sociologists and economists, and the following generalizations appear applicable:

  1. As in other industrialized countries, occupational mobility in the United States is widespread. The majority of men work in an occupation different from that of their fathers, and a substantial number change occupations at least once during their careers.2 The total amount of movement has not varied a great deal over time, 3 though it has been affected by economic cycles and by wars.
  2. Movement is most likely to occur between occupations that are closely related in work requirements and social status.
  3. There has consistently been more upward than downward mobility, in terms of conventional status rankings of occupations. This has occurred as the Nation has changed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and more recently, from an industrial to a service-oriented one. (However, downward mobility has received increasing attention recently as some college graduates have opted for–or been forced to take–blue-collar jobs).
  4. Occupations with a heavy influx of workers tend to have many workers moving out as well. These fields are typically the ones requiring less formal training than others, such as salesworkers, clerks, laborers, and service workers. Conversely, occupations which depend upon either capital investments or an established clientele tend to have little movement in or out. These include self-employed professionals, proprietors, and farmers.

1 The following are examples of publications which report trends or give summaries of mobility research in the United States at various points in time: Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan, The American Occupational Structure (New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1967); Robert M. Hauser and David L. Featherman, "White-Nonwhite Differentials in Occupational Mobility Among Men in the United. States, 1962-1972," Demography, May 1974, pp. 247-65; Elton Jackson and Harry J. Crockett, "Occupational Mobility in the United States: A Point Estimation and a Trend Comparison," American Sociological Review, February 1964, pp. 5-15; Herbert S. Parnes, "Labor Force Participation and Labor Mobility," in Woodrow L. Ginsburg and others, A Review of llldustrial Relations Research, Vol. I, (Madison, Industrial Relations Research Association, 1970); Natalie Rogoff, Recent Trends in Occupational Mobility, 1953. (Glencoe, Ill., The Free Press, 1953.)

2 Less work has been done on the mobility of women. There is evidence that it is similar to that of men, though less so than their "marital mobility." See Andrea Tyree and Judith Treas, "The Occupational and Marital Mobility of Women," American Sociological Review, June 1974, pp. 293-302.

3 Rogoff, Recent Trends, for example, found that the level of occupational mobility in Indianapolis in 1940 was about the same as in 1910. Other studies have likewise found consistencies over time.

A Note on Language

Census statistics date back to 1790 and reflect the growth and change of the United States. Past census reports contain some terms that today’s readers may consider obsolete and inappropriate. As part of our goal to be open and transparent with the public, we are improving access to all Census Bureau original publications and statistics, which serve as a guide to the nation's history.

Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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