Average U.S. job tenure increased in 2012 - 5.4 years, compared to 5.2 years in 2010 - Employee Benefit Research Institute researchers find, but tenure still is at levels many might consider low.

A deeper dive into the research reveals that the median tenure for males actually has dropped, down from 5.9 years in 1983 to 5.5 years in 2012. Older male workers (those aged 55 to 64), who might be expected to have some of the longest tenures, have experienced the largest decline over several decades: down to 10.7-years in 2012 from 14.7-years in 1963.

The declines in male tenures, however, have been more than offset by gains among women. The average female worker's tenure increased from 4.2 years in 1983 to 5.4 years in 2012. The largest increase in tenure was among females ages 55 to 64, whose median tenure rose from 7.8 years in 1963 to 10 years in 2012.

EBRI reports that, traditionally, the U.S. workforce has always had a relatively low median tenure. The idea of a full-career position and retirement with the proverbial "gold watch" is, for most workers, a myth.

"Career-long jobs never existed for most workers," says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate and author of the report. "Historically, most workers have repeatedly changed jobs during their working careers, and all evidence suggests that they will continue to do so in the future."

Copeland adds that the once striking gap between long-tenure public- and private-sector workers is starting to narrow slightly. Private-sector workers' median tenure held relatively steady from 1983 to 2002, at around 3.5 years. Susequently, the median tenure trended upward, reaching 4.3 years in 2012. However, the median tenure for public-sector workers increased from six years in 1983 to 7.5 years in 1998 before declining to seven years in 2004. In 2012, the median tenure for public-sector workers jumped to 8.3 years.

The percentage of workers having at least five years of tenure reached 52.6% in 2012, the highest percentage over the 1983-2012 period. The percentage of workers with 20 or more years of tenure increased from 8.9% in 1983 to 10.7% in 2008 and to 11% in 2012. The percentage of workers with one year or less of tenure declined from 25.7% in 1983 to 20.8% in 2008 and 17.4% in 2010 before rising to 19.5% in 2012.

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