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Working Papers

August 2014, No. 14-15

Learning and Life Cycle Patterns of Occupational Transitions

Aspen Gorry, Devon Gorry and Nicholas Trachter

Data reveal that individuals experience a high number of occupational switches. Over 40% of high school graduates transition between white and blue collar occupations more than once between the ages of 18 and 28. This paper develops a life cycle model of occupational choices based on workers learning about their type and sorting themselves to the best job match. Documenting life cycle patterns of occupational choices using data from the NLSY79 supports key predictions from the model. Initial characteristics are predictive of future patterns of occupational switching, including the timing and number of switches. In addition, the average time to the first occupational switch is longer than the time to the second switch for individuals with multiple occupational transitions.

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