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Industry Ages Over Time

The labor force is constantly adapting to the latest technological advancements. In 2019, we saw the emergence of 5G, more autonomous cars, bigger applications of AI, and the takeoff of biotech, expanding career possibilities and indicating a strong future in tech markets. The entire workforce is changing due to boosts in technological access, and some industries are embracing those changes more than others.

Younger workers are attracted to industries that are innovative and allow them to solve big problems with new solutions, even in traditionally “boring” fields, leaving some fields with age breakdowns skewed either extremely young or in favor of more experienced, older workers. Improvements in tech are impacting nearly every industry, from mining and forestry to manufacturing and development jobs.

To see which industries’ populations are becoming younger and which ones are growing older, we analyzed 13 broad categories of professions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These include:

  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting
  • Construction 
  • Education and health services
  • Financial activities
  • Information
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction
  • Other services
  • Professional and business services
  • Public administration
  • Transportation and utilities
  • Wholesale and retail trade

We further broke down these categories to see which specific sectors are appealing to younger generations and which ones have employees continuing to grow older. Continue reading to find out more. 

Age Comparisons Across the Board

Leisure and hospitality, an industry that saw its median age increase from 2011 to 2018, was still significantly younger than the other 12 major professional categories. In some areas, restaurant and service industry jobs help power local economies with strong restaurant culture, so these jobs tend to have a low barrier to entry and require little to no experience. 

Wholesale and retail trade was another industry whose workforce also trended younger than others. However, the industry has been under threat in recent years due to the continuing rise of e-commerce. The latest threat to this sector? Amazon’s one-day shipping service

Education and health services may also be more attractive to younger prospects. Health care, specifically, is the fastest-growing industry, employing more people than any other field. This has driven the industry to not only recruit young workers eager to enter the expansive health care workforce, but are welcoming older workers to compensate for a worker shortage in certain areas. The BLS estimates that the sector will grow as demand for health aides and personal care aides services continues to increase.

The oldest workers operated within agriculture, with a median age of 48 in 2018. To save agricultural jobs in the U.S., President Trump planned to stimulate the industry with financial aid of upward of $28 billion. However, tensions between agriculture leaders and the president over ethanol regulation may contribute to increased caution among these workers.

Breaking Down Employee Ages in 2018

The agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry had almost more than double the number of workers aged 65 and older compared to the other industries. A combination of aging workers and a drop in the migrant workforce means trouble for the future of this industry if it doesn’t adapt to changes in the market, including expanding H-2A work visas and incentivizing American workers to apply for these jobs. 

Once again, hospitality and leisure jobs were dominated by younger age groups, with 16- to 24-year-olds accounting for nearly a third of the labor force. In wholesale and retail, this age group represented 20% of the workforce. Many people’s first jobs are in food service or retail, with the sheer number of jobs available allowing teens and 20-somethings to find work without previous job experience. 

Meanwhile, the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry had nearly 30% of workers between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2018. Electric vehicles and the subsequent rise in demand for minerals and technology to power those products is attracting younger workers with a wide range of specialties

Oldest and Youngest Specific Industries

When looking at specific industries, some with the oldest employees are those that have been directly impacted by the internet. Maintenance and repair services had the oldest median age (52.9) in 2018. With the rise of online home renovation and repair services such as TaskRabbit and HomeAdvisor, people have more options for where to get home improvement help. Additionally, DIY culture could play a part. YouTube and repair blogs allow people to snake out their own drains rather than calling a plumber. 

Religious organizations had the second-oldest median age at 52. Some believe that older leaders are better equipped to inspire the masses, especially young people, and churches and houses of worship have traditionally followed this trend. However, younger leaders are paving the way with more progressive and unified congregations.

Fluctuations in Industry Age Ranges

Younger workers are looking for job security and a chance to enter a growing industry. And the expansion of craft beer offerings and a record number of brewery openings may represent an industry in which young people see potential, as the median age of beverage manufacturing workers experienced more than a 10% change since 2011, moving in the younger direction.

On the other hand, the cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry is struggling to attract new workers in general: The sector experienced a 47% drop in total jobs from 2000 to 2017. Many previously stable trades and professions were damaged after the Great Recession in 2008, causing them to adapt and fight to rebound heading into 2020. The manufacturing sector boasts some of the highest paid and tenured workers across all industries and is embracing change, including recruiting directly to younger workers to balance out the experienced, tenured workers the industry relies on.  

Animal slaughter and processing is another industry with a workforce that is aging the most (the median age has grown older by 6% since 2011), an industry that is shrinking with each coming year. A rise in animal activism, supported by climate concerns and a focus on clean eating, has fueled support and research on meat alternatives and lab-grown meat products, all of which are a threat to the meat and slaughter industry’s growth as a whole and its ability to market and recruit younger workers. 

Can Age Impact Earnings?

When comparing average earnings across the 13 major industries using the May 2018 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, a shocking revelation appeared regarding relative wealth. The oldest and youngest industries had the lowest average salaries in 2018: leisure and hospitality (just shy of $50,000 per year) and agriculture (around $52,000 annually). This means that the industries with older and more seasoned workers aren’t necessarily the ones bringing in the cash. 

Overall, workers in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction fared best, with average earnings reaching just under $70,000 annually. Wages in this industry are soaring, as focused and targeted recruiting for specialized roles becomes more critical in the evolution of these jobs. As traditional industries continue to adapt to changes in technology, workers, regardless of their age, will need to stay up to date on the latest advancements to remain relevant and proficient at their jobs.

Workforce Changes Into 2020

Just as some industries are aging, others are attracting a younger workforce. And, as we’ve seen, many industries are moving into new territory with technology advancements and eager workers looking to make a splash in a new field. The stress of grinding in a workplace that is not expanding can be overwhelming for workers, so being proactive about your options is key, even for those in their 60s and beyond. 

If any of these industries look appealing to you, what’s stopping you from entering at the ground floor? At ZenBusiness, we specialize in helping motivated people start their own businesses in the field they desire. Check out our personalized plans that work best for your company. 

Methodology

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” we examined the median ages and age breakdowns of industry employees from 2011 to 2018.

The BLS breaks down 13 broad categories that all have multiple levels of subcategories. The majority of our analysis focused on the major categories. However, when looking at the oldest and youngest employees in industries, we decided to get more specific and look at the subcategories that had the oldest and youngest median employee ages. We examined subcategories with at least 200,000 workers and were classified as four-digit code industries in the NAICS. 

Part of this project looks at the industry median ages that changed the most over time. This was calculated by running a basic percentage change calculation on industries based on the median age in 2011 and the median age in 2018. 

For part of this project, we wanted to compare the oldest and youngest industries with the average salary for each industry. We used the May 2018 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from the BLS to do so. The wage estimates classified industries slightly differently than the labor force statistics. We grouped the following wage estimate industries to get comparable categories in our final visualization of the data:

  • Transportation and utilities: transportation and warehousing; utilities
  • Financial activities: finance and insurance; real estate, rental, and leasing
  • Education and health services: educational services; health care and social assistance
  • Professional and business services: administrative and support and waste management and remediation services; management of companies and enterprises; professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Wholesale and retail trade: retail trade; wholesale trade
  • Leisure and hospitality: accommodation and food services; arts, entertainment, and recreation

Limitations

Given the differences in the two datasets analyzed, it’s possible that some of the category groupings we did for clarity in our final visualization didn’t match up completely. 

Fair Use Statement

Regardless of whether your industry skews older or younger, age is just a number, and all workers have valuable experience to offer. If someone you know would benefit from our findings, you are free to share the study for any noncommercial reuse. Our only request is that you link back here so that people can view the entire study and review the methodology. This also helps our contributors get credit for their efforts.

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