How flexible is the flexible labour market?

We talk all the time about the changing nature of work and the increasing flexibility of the labour market. So I thought it would be easy to find some research that proves this. I was just looking for a reference or two that noted that the number of jobs or employers that an individual might encounter in their life is rising. Perhaps some figures on a drop in the length of job tenure etc. However as I’ve swum around in the research I’ve found that this certainty about the increasing flexibility of the labour market is very difficult to back up with anything authoritative. I’ve also noticed that a vast number of websites/books etc give figures for number of jobs in a lifetime or average job tenure that are completely unsubstantiated. This is very frustrating.

I thought I’d just list a few research articles and what they say to demonstrate what I mean. If people know of some research that I’m missing here it would be really helpful if you could point me towards it.

  • The Office of National Statistics find that most people (four out of five) had been in the same job for a year or more, and this proportion changes little between the years shown in the table (1986-2001).
  • Gregg & Wadsworth (1995) look at change between 1975 and 1973 concluding that for the majority still in full-time employment, average job durations are little changed from those of twenty years ago. However they also note that for those seeking employment entry jobs are now more unstable, and less well paid.
  • Burgess & Rees (1998) also look for evidence of change in the length of job tenure between 1975 and 1993 and find no evidence of it.
  • Auer & Cazes (2000) note that the labour markets of most industrialized countries show little sign of becoming generally unstable.

Ok, so this is just a quick search, but I can’t find anything authoritative that concludes that the nature of the labour market has changed in the way policy makers (and careers professionals) often characterise it. Can any labour market economists out there point me to anything more recent or more authoritative than the stuff I’ve found? Also can anyone tell me whether there is a debate about this issue happening in labour market economics?



  1. Hello Tris,The book I got Korin for her birthday (23 Things…) contains some general stuff about LM flexibilty (maybe not as detialed as you are looking for). The stuff on strong welfare states being better facilitators of flexibility (whereas weaker ones tend to encourage conservatism and protectionist attitudes to job roles, skills etc.) might be useful. Author’s view is that deregulation policies desinged to achieve ‘flexibility’ have the opposite effect and that welfare states – in providing assurances that living standards are not destroyed and that education and re-training will be readily available – encourage people to be more flexible and open to change and innovation.

  2. Thanks – I’ll have a look. My genuine question is whether there is any evidence that the labour market is any more fluid/unstable than it ever has been. The idea that we live in a rapidly changing world with a increasingly dynamic labour market is a standard careers trope. But, I can’t find any evidence that this is actually the case.

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