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August 1985, Vol. 108, No. 8
Revised worklife tables
reflect 1979-80 experience
It is estimated that if mortality conditions and labor force entry and exit rates held constant at levels observed in 1979 to 1980, males born during those years would work about a third longer (38.8 years) over their lifetimes than would their female counterparts (29.4 years). Whites would work considerably longer than blacks and others, with white women working more than 2 years longer and white men nearly 7 years longer than their minority counterparts. The impact of education would be seen not only in occupational choice, but also in the total length of time spent in the labor force. Although remaining in school might delay career entry, those who studied longest would also spend the most years being economically active.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been producing worklife estimates for the U.S. population since 1950. Initially, these estimates portrayed workers as being continuously active from the time of initial labor force entry until final retirement. In 1982, after completing a major study of worklife methodology, the BLS published its first set of increment-decrement, or multistate, working life tables for the years 1970 and 1977.1 Based on observed rates of labor force entry and exit at all ages, those tables for the first time quantified the impact of midlife labor force withdrawal and reentry on worklife duration. Their publication drew responses from many economists involved in litigation of wrongful injury or death cases. Several such responses have been published in the Monthly Labor Review,2 and some of the refinements proposed by readers have since been implemented in BLS worklife research.3
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1 See Shirley J. Smith, "New worklife estimates reflect changing profile of labor force," Monthy Labor Review, March 1982, pp. 15-20; Shirley J. Smith, Tables of Working Life: The Increment-Decrement Model, Bulletin 2135 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982); and Shirley J. Smith, New Worklife Estimates, Bulletin 2157 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982).
2 See David M. Nelson, "The use of worklife tables in estimates of lost earning capacity," Monthly Labor Review, April 1983, pp. 30-31; John L. Finch, "Worklife estimates should be consistent with known labor force participation," Monthly Labor Review, June 1982, pp. 34-36; Kenneth J. Boudreaux, "A further adjustment needed to estimate lost earning capacity," Monthly Labor Review, October 1983, pp. 30-31; and George C. Alter and William E. Becker, "Estimating lost future earnings using the new worklife tables," Monthly Labor Review, February 1985, pp. 39-42.
3 We now estimate David Nelson's index of median years to final retirement. Following a suggestion by George Alter and William Becker, we also make assumptions of retirement beyond age 75 explicit. It is assumed that no one enters the labor force after age 75, and that anyone active at exact age 76 either leaves the work force or dies before their 77th birthday.
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Black college graduates in the labor market, 1979 and 1989.—Nov. 1990
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