An empirical regularity in most societies is that a young man's likelihood of holding a job increases with age. In 1980, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor classified as “employed” 39.7, 55.9, 70.0, 83.5, and 88.3 percent of men aged 16-17, 18-19, 20-24, 25-29, and 30-34, respectively (U.S. Department of Labor, 1981). Employment remains stable at between 85 and 90 percent for men through midlife and declines after 50 as retirements become prevalent. Although the level of employment varies with its precise definition and among demographic groups, rapidly rising employment with age among men under age 30 is a fundamental pattern.
The age pattern of employment among young men is important for understanding the transition from youth to adult. For men, employment is generally a prerequisite for moving from family of origin to establishment of a family of procreation. The age pattern of employment reflects this transition and concomitant age-related changes in school enrollment, living arrangements, financial dependence, and marital and fertility status.
Employment is also an important source of age variation in the distribution of social and economic welfare. It is a precondition of access to occupational status, earnings, and, for most men, general economic security, as well as a determinant of perceived self-worth (Cohn, 1978). Differential rates of employment, therefore, are one cause of economic inequality between the old and the young (Coleman et al., 1974; Winsborough, 1978).