Average U.S. job tenure increased in 2012 — 5.4 years, compared to 5.2 years in 2010 — Employee Benefit Research Institute researchers find, but tenure still is at levels many might consider low.

A deeper dive into the research reveals that the median tenure for males actually has dropped, down from 5.9 years in 1983 to 5.5 years in 2012. Older male workers (those aged 55 to 64), who might be expected to have some of the longest tenures, have experienced the largest decline over several decades: down to 10.7-year tenures last year from 14.7-year ones in 1963.

The declines in male tenures, however, have been more than offset by gains among women. The average female worker’s tenure increased from 4.2 years in 1983 to 5.4 years in 2012.

EBRI reports that, traditionally, the U.S. workforce always has had a relatively low median tenure. The idea of a full-career position and retirement with the proverbial “gold watch” is, for most workers, a myth.

“Career-long jobs never existed for most workers,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate and author of the report. “Historically, most workers have repeatedly changed jobs during their working careers, and all evidence suggests that they will continue to do so in the future.”

Copeland adds that the once striking gap between long-tenure public- and private-sector workers is starting to narrow slightly.

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