How Does Occupational Status Impact Bridge Job Prevalence?
Is bridge job prevalence reduced significantly if a change in occupation is required in addition to the hours and tenure requirements that typically define bridge job employment? Prior research has shown that the majority of older Americans with career employment do not exit the labor force directly from their careers. Rather, most career individuals take on a “bridge job” later in life, that is, a job that follows full-time career (FTC) employment and precedes complete labor force withdrawal (i.e., retirement). One criticism of this finding is that bridge job prevalence may be overstated because the definition of a bridge job in the existing literature does not require a change in occupation. This paper investigates the extent to which bridge jobs involve a change in occupation or a switch to part-time status, both of which may signal retirement transitions as opposed to continued career employment, albeit with a different employer. We use the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally-representative longitudinal dataset of older Americans that began in 1992 as the basis for our analysis. We find that, among HRS respondents who were on a FTC job at the time of the first interview and who changed jobs in subsequent waves, 48 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women also changed occupations, using 2-digit occupation codes. Further, when hours worked are also considered, we find that more than three quarters of FTC respondents who changed jobs later in life had either a change in occupation or a switch from full-time to part-time status. Finally, an examination of those career workers who changed jobs but not occupations and who remained working full time reveals that, as a whole, they resemble those who took bridge jobs rather than those who remained on their FTC job. We conclude that the vast majority of career workers who changed jobs later in life did in fact do so as part of a retirement transition.
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