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White-Collar Woes: Later-Career Job Displacement in the “New Risk Economy.”

November 2006

Ruby Mendenhall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Ariel Kalil, University of Chicago; Laurel J. Spindel, University of Chicago; and Cassandra Hart, Northwestern University.

Download 'working_paper06-43.pdf'.


We use a life course framework to examine how the “new risk economy” has left middle-aged executives and managers more vulnerable to job loss and unemployment despite high levels of human capital. Using in-depth qualitative data from 77 recently-unemployed white-collar workers, we examine perceptions of macro-economic forces and their implications for respondents’ career-recovery plans and expectations for their own and their children’s future career prospects. In analyzing respondents’ decisions and behavior in response to perceived opportunities and constraints, we find a “free-agent” mentality in the face of declines in employer loyalty. Age bias in a highly competitive labor market is perceived as a major impediment to job recovery. Finally, respondents make mastering the “new risk economy” a developmental goal for themselves and their children.

Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market