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The Multi-Generational Labor Force



To better understand the multi-generational labor force (Millennials ages 18-34, Gen-Xers ages 35-54, and Baby Boomers ages 55-69), AARP conducted a national online survey of 1,797 adults who are currently working or looking for work. The survey explored the reasons adults work and the job characteristics they most value. While differences exist, the survey also found similarities across generations. This suggests that employers have opportunities to address common needs in order to build age-diverse teams.

Similarities include:

  • When thinking about what is most important to their “best possible job,” over seven-in-ten Millennials, Gen-Xers and Boomers identify good pay as one of their top priorities. Additionally, a substantial portion (at least four-in-ten) of each generation cite a good work-life balance, paid time off, a flexible schedule and a friendly work environment among their most important characteristics.

  • When asked about reasons they are working (or looking for work), Millennials, Gen-Xers and Boomers are most likely to report earning money for everyday expenses as a major reason.  Majorities of each generation also cite long-term security as a major reason to work.

  • Similarities between Millennials and Gen-Xers:  Millennials and Gen-Xers are similarly likely to say supporting family (Millennials: 54%, Gen-Xers: 57%) and paying off debt (Millennials: 46%, Gen-Xers: 49%) are major reasons for them to work.

  • Similarities between Gen-Xers and Boomers:  Around half of Gen-Xers and Boomers say health insurance is a major reason for them to work.  Accordingly, these generations are particularly likely to identify a health plan as one of the most important characteristics of their best possible job (Gen-Xers: 49%, Boomers: 47%).

Majorities of each generation are interested in work-related training:

  • While interest is greatest among the youngest members of the labor force, a majority of adults across generations are interested in work-related education and training opportunities. A clear majority (71%) of adults in the labor force are interested in training to keep skills and knowledge up to date, with 78% of Millennials, 70% of Gen-Xers, and 61% of Boomers extremely or very interested. Notably, 58% of Boomers are extremely or very interested in training to learn new skills to advance in their career, and 51% are extremely or very interested in training for a completely different type of job.

Differences include:

  • Boomers, as a group, are the most satisfied in their current jobs.  The survey finds that 65% are either extremely or very satisfied with their current job, compared to 57% of both Millennials and Gen-Xers.

  • Millennials are more likely to be engaged in a job search. The survey finds that 35% of employed Millennials are currently looking for a new job, and of those not currently looking, almost a quarter (24%) are likely to begin a job search in the next year.  The job-seeking behavior among the youngest members of the labor force may be related to their relative likelihood to prioritize career advancement opportunities.

  • Not surprisingly, life stages may help explain some differences across generations. For example, Millennials, who may be facing first-time expenses such as a car or home, are more likely than other generations to say saving for a large expense is a major reason to work.  And, Gen-Xers and Boomers are more likely than Millennials to consider a health plan and retirement plan among the most important
    characteristics of their best possible job.

  • Boomers and Millennials are more likely than Gen-Xers to be employed part-time, with 23% of Boomers and 25% of Millennials working part-time, compared to 15% of Gen-Xers.

A national online survey was conducted among adults ages 18-69 who are currently working or looking for work. The survey was administered by PhiPower Communications, Inc. and was fielded in August 2016.  For more information, contact Sarah Kerman at


Suggested Citation:

Kerman, Sarah C. and Teresa A. Keenan. The Multi-Generational Labor Force. Washington, DC: AARP Research, January 2017.

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