The Biggest Stereotype About the Professional Lives of Millennials in the U.S. is Wrong

Contrary to the stereotypes that dog them, millennials just aren't very different from generations past.

Millennials have developed a reputation as job hoppers. Entitled and impatient, the story goes, young workers in the U.S. get bored easily, jumping from company to company looking for better opportunities sooner than they deserve them. But if you examine the data, this narrative appears almost entirely wrong. In fact, it would probably be better if millennials job hopped more.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, typical employee tenure for young people has barely budged in decades. In fact, the median length of job tenures for “Generation X,” those born from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, when they were young, was actually slightly shorter than that of millennials.

Contrary to the stereotypes that dog them, millennials just aren’t very different from generations past. For more than two decades, the relative length of job tenure between older and younger workers has been remarkably stable. Education levels also don’t make much difference. College degree-holding 25 to 34 year olds have almost the exact same median years of tenure at jobs in 2016 as they did in 1996 (overall unemployment rates were similar in these years).

The number of 25 to 34 year olds who have been in their job for two years or more actually grew from 59.7% in 1996 to 61.8% in 2016. Yet at the same time, the proportion who have been in their jobs for more than five years did drop. Recent research by economists at the Federal Reserve and the University of Notre Dame shows that while young people are less likely to stay at one company (pdf) for a long time, they are also less inclined to quickly leave a temporary or entry-level job.

Economists think that millennials, now the U.S.’s largest generation, would be better off if they were more willing to change positions more frequently. Switching jobs is one of the best ways to get promoted or negotiate higher pay (pdf). More fluidity in the labor market also puts pressure on employers to offer better compensation to current employees.

The flighty, job-hopping millennial is a myth. There’s reason to hope it becomes reality.