Fall 2023 Colloquium Series - Xi Song

When Occupations Disappear: Inequality in Mobility Between Workers in Occupations with Job Expansion and Contraction



Event Description

Labor market restructuring—the changing size, content, and significance of different occupations—affects workers' job mobility opportunities and outcomes. However, the existing literature either overlooks workers' mobility response to occupational restructuring or analyzes it within occupational changes across broad categories (e.g., farming, manufacturing, or service occupations). We fill this gap by analyzing inequality in occupational mobility between workers in occupations with job expansion and contraction. We construct a novel dataset of 12,381 occupation-year observations documented in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook (2000--2020) and other occupational databases to describe employment trends and 10-year projected employment. By linking occupation-level information with Current Population Surveys, we examine the job mobility patterns of workers in occupations with varying degrees of employment change. Our analyses show that workers in occupations with job contraction face a double disadvantage with respect to occupational mobility. First, their jobs are more unstable than workers in growing or stable occupations. Second, when they change occupations they are likely to move from one declining occupation to another rather than entering growing occupations. Additionally, they are more likely to experience downward mobility into lower-paying occupations than their counterparts in growing occupations. Less educated and older workers, net of other characteristics, are the least likely to move from declining to growing occupations. Our results suggest that changing occupational demand in recent decades has influenced inequality in opportunities for mobility. Workers in declining occupations face significant challenges in seeking and securing jobs in the new economy.

About the speaker:

Xi Song is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research uses statistical, computational, and demographic techniques to understand job, employment, and earnings mobility over the life course and across generations. Her current topics of investigation include U.S. occupational shifts, the labor market trajectories of Asian Americans, discrepancies between factual and perceived inequality, multigenerational social mobility and kinship inequality, and new methodology for characterizing the link between intra- and intergenerational processes. She received the 2021 William Julius Wilson Early Career Award from the American Sociological Association. Her previous publications have received multiple awards from the American Sociological Association, the International Sociological Association, IPUMS, and the Demographic Research. She holds a PhD in Sociology and an MS in Statistics from UCLA.