Almost 51% of American workers were satisfied with their jobs in 2016, according to new survey results from business research group The Conference Board. That’s a slight uptick from the 49.6% satisfaction rate found by a Conference Board survey for 2015, and the highest satisfaction rate since 2005.
The researchers behind the survey tied satisfaction directly to a tight labor market that has lowered layoff rates, increased opportunity, and generally improved working conditions as employers go farther to recruit and retain workers. They also said similar conditions are likely to prevail for the foreseeable future, with the retirement of baby boomers keeping U.S. labor demand, and therefore job satisfaction, high through 2030.
Specific measures where workers were particularly satisfied included their coworkers (60.5% satisfaction), their supervisor (57.3%) and their physical work environment (56.1%).
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According to the Wall Street Journal, though, the higher satisfaction levels may reflect declining expectations among workers as much as better working conditions. Certain objective measures of job quality, including retirement and health benefits, have remained stagnant even as satisfaction ticks up.
One management expert told the Journal that millennials, who now make up the largest age cohort of workers, “don’t even know what they’re missing” when it comes to pay, benefits and perks. Many of them entered the work force after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which spiked unemployment and depressed wage growth even after employment levels recovered.
The status quo has changed in other ways, and the Conference Board doesn’t foresee job satisfaction returning to levels like the 61.1% rate found back in 1987. According to the research team, structural changes including declining unionization and the outsourcing of low-skilled jobs “are unlikely to reverse,” making satisfaction more elusive for workers at the bottom end of the labor market.