If you’re in your early 20s and bouncing between jobs to figure out your path, take heart—older generations did the same. A comprehensive new report, the most extensive of its kind, sheds light on the economic habits of “young” boomers, those born between 1957 and 1964.
This report, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, initially interviewed 9,964 young respondents in 1979 when they were between 14 and 22 years old. It then revisited them between 2020 and 2021.
The findings reveal that younger boomers were quite comfortable with job changes, especially at the beginning of their careers. Additionally, the report identifies the age at which these individuals reached the peak of their earning potential.
The data revealed that younger boomers saw their inflation-adjusted salaries increase the quickest between the ages of 18 and 24, when their hourly wage went up an average of 6.5% every year.
After that, the earnings growth rate slowed: from 25 to 34 increases of 3.3% a year were reported, and then 1.8% a year from the ages of 25 to 44. From the age of 45 onwards, earnings growth flatlined.
That could spell bad news for Millennials—people born between 1981 and 1996—the oldest of which are approaching their 45th birthday.
The report also found that hourly earnings were generally higher for people who had more education.
Between the ages of 18 and 24, for example, those with less than a high school diploma saw hourly earnings go up 2.3%, whereas counterparts who had a bachelor’s degree or higher saw earnings increase 9.3% each year.
By the age of 45 to 56 those without a high school diploma actually experienced negative earnings growth of 0.8%, while those with a degree saw a growth of 0.6%.
However, the bureau adds: “This pattern in earnings growth reflects, in part, the state of the U.S. economy during the years in which survey participants were in each age group.”
You could be fooled into thinking that job hopping is post-pandemic behavior, spurred by restless Gen Zers during Covid lockdowns. Think again.
The report found the 1957 to 1964 cohort held an average of 12.7 jobs from the age of 18 onwards, and nearly half of those were held before the age of 25.
On average men moved jobs more than women—12.8 compared to 12.5—and on average white people held more jobs in the early stages of their careers than black, Hispanic or Latino people, though the gap decreased as they got older.
A significant portion of the cohort also reported that their work was being restricted by their health—either in type of work or amount of hours—particularly in the latter years of their life.
For example, almost one in three black people said that by the time they reached the age of 56, they were limited in what they could do for work because of their health. This is compared to 20% of white people and 23% of Hispanic and Latino respondents.
This factor also showed a significant correlation with the level of education the respondents had.
At every age older than 24, those with lower levels of education were more likely to say they were limited in their work by their health.
By their 56th birthday, 46% of high school dropouts and 25% of high school graduates who never went to college said they were limited by health in their careers.