2015 American Working Conditions Survey: First Findings

Published: 2016


In this report we present preliminary findings from the 2015 American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), a new nationally representative survey of U.S. workers ages 18-71. We find that older workers (older than 50) are less likely than younger workers to work at very high speeds, experience frequent stress, or carry or move heavy loads. They are also slightly less likely to receive training from an employer. Most strikingly, older workers are much more likely to report having a feeling of making a positive impact on their community or society through their work.

Key Findings

    • We focus on the 3,075 American workers ages 25-71 who report working for someone else in their main paid job (i.e., excluding self-employed).
    • Only 17.9 percent of American workers regularly work very long hours—more than 10 hours per day for more than 10 days per month. While younger workers (those younger than 50) are slightly more likely than older workers (those ages 50 and older) to work long hours (18.8 percent vs. 16.4 percent), this difference is statistically insignificant.
    • Only 35.7 percent have a work schedule set by their employer with no possibility for changes, and 26.1 percent have no choice of the methods by which they work. That flexibility does not tend to extend to the location of work. Flexibility at work does not vary for older versus younger workers along these dimensions.
    • While 46.1 percent of younger workers report experiencing stress at work always or most of the time, only 33.5 percent of older workers report persistent stress—a 27.3 percent decrease in the prevalence of work-related stress.
    • One-third of younger workers report carrying or moving heavy loads half the time or more, compared with 22.3 percent of older workers.
    • Older workers are slightly less likely to receive training from an employer, although fewer than half of both older and younger workers report receiving any training in the past 12 months.
    • Younger workers are twice as likely as older workers to report no feeling of positive impact (19.0 percent versus 9.6 percent).
    • Note that these simple comparisons of working conditions by age reflect not only actual age differences within a job, but also may reflect selection out of jobs with undesirable working conditions and/or selection out of the labor force over time.


Maestas, Nicole, Kathleen J. Mullen, David Powell, Jeffrey Wenger, and Till von Wachter. 2016. "2015 American Working Conditions Survey: First Findings." Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) Working Paper, WP 2016-342. https://mrdrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/papers/pdf/wp342.pdf