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Gender Differences in the Quit Behavior of Young Workers

Audrey Light and Manuelita Ureta


The days when women automatically withdrew from the labor force upon marrying or having a child are long gone. Although it remains common for women with young children to interrupt their careers, increasing numbers work continuously throughout their adult lives. There is concern, however, that young women who are not planning career interruptions are unable to signal their intentions to potential employers. Employers may simply equate "female" with "quitter" because women have higher average turnover rates then men. Such statistical discrimination would be costly to women, since training, promotions, and even the jobs themselves are often unavailable to workers who are expected to quit.


In this study, we examine the cohorts of young men and women in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience. Our broad objective is to address the following questions about early-career mobility:

  1. Overall, which gender undergoes the most turnover during the early career?
  2. What observable factors influence the turnover of each gender? In particular, is there evidence that women, as well as men, quit their jobs because they are "shopping" for a durable employment relationship? How is turnover influenced by such measures of family responsibilities as marital status and the birth of a child? Do unemployment rates and other measures of market conditions have differential effects on men and women?
  3. Do unobservable or unmeasured factors account for a significant amount of turnover? Are these factors relatively more important for women than for men?
  4. Is the turnover behavior of men and women changing with successive birth cohorts or labor market entry cohorts? Do continuously employed workers exhibit a different pattern of turnover than workers who interrupt their careers?