First jobs matter more than ever, and the ones young people get today aren’t great

Most of your career earnings take place before age 40, so if you don’t land a high-paying job early, odds are you will be stuck on a lower-earning track for life. First jobs matter, perhaps more than ever before.

A recent academic paper took Social Security records and tracked lifetime earnings for people who started work between the 1950s and 1980s. The economy in the 1950s was more forgiving; there was less inequality among twenty-somethings, and they earned more than their counterparts in later generations, as pay rises steadily shrank for young workers over this period.

For recent graduates, the early signs aren’t good. Inequality is worse and young graduates are paid even less than their parents were at their age. That makes the cost of starting a career in the wrong job higher than it used to be. Lower starting salaries and less job mobility are a bad combination. In 1983, more than 25% of American workers had been in their job less than a 1 year. In 2014, less than 20% had short tenure (pdf, Figure 6).

So where are twenty-somethings getting their start in today’s high-stakes economy? The chart below shows where 23 to 29 year-olds who are not enrolled in school worked in 2016, by job type. The share of men in these roles is in the right-hand column.

Read more at Quartz.