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Key Findings Details

2015 American Working Conditions Survey: Focus on Older Versus Younger Workers
Nicole Maestas, Kathleen Mullen, David Powell and Till M. von Wachter
WP 2016-362

  • We find that, generally, workers older than 50 report better working conditions than younger workers, with some exceptions (e.g., on-the-job training, prospects for career advancement).
  • An overwhelming fraction of Americans report either intense or repetitive physical exertion on the job at least a quarter of the time. This burden is unequally distributed, with noncollege-educated workers having substantially greater physical demands. But perhaps surprisingly, even the college educated, older workers, and women are affected.
  • A disturbingly high fraction of American workers (both men and women) are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work, 13 percent of all men and 12 percent of all women reporting verbal abuse or threats in the past month, for example. The incidence of hostile experiences varies in important ways by gender, age, and experience (with younger and middle-aged women more likely to have unwanted sexual attention, and a large fraction of young men experiencing verbal abuse). But it is telling that a hostile social environment at work is much more evenly distributed by education groups than physical working conditions.
  • Consistent with human capital theory, the prevalence of training declines with age. Sixty-two percent of men and 68 percent of women younger than 35 report on-the-job training, compared with 46 percent of men and 49 percent of women age 50 and older.

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