Late-Career Job Changes Reduce Stress

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Great news for older workers considering a career change – those who’ve done it are happier and less stressed.

People who attempted a career change sometime after turning 45 were surveyed last year by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) in Massachusetts.  Whatever the reason for making a change – voluntary or forced – the majority of those who did so felt their results were successful.

These late-career changers need to be put in a larger perspective.  Older workers are much more likely to stay put in a job than are younger people moving up the ladder, and older people also have a tougher time recovering and finding a new full-time job after becoming unemployed.

But when older workers can change their employment, the outcomes are positive.

“I feel like a new person” – 72 percent of job changers agreed with this statement, while 65 percent said their stress levels fell, according to the AIER.  There are also downsides to late-career transitions: a hefty minority of those surveyed advised others taking this path to be open-minded about their working hours and lower compensation, though half of those surveyed said their pay eventually increased in their new jobs.

“If you feel you need a change, then do it,” one survey respondent commented.

This survey provides a fresh take on a comprehensive 2009 AARP-Urban Institute study that reached similar conclusions.  The AARP-Urban study found that many older workers tend to move into less prestigious jobs when they make a change.  For example, managers often take non-management positions, which could partly explain why the share of people who said they felt stressed about their work dropped by almost half after a late-career change, from 65 percent to 36 percent.

This study didn’t distinguish between transitions to full- and part-time work in its analysis. However, only about one-third of people who left employers voluntarily or were laid off went part-time; people were more likely to choose part-time if they returned to work after retiring.

The study analyzed late-career changing, based on the type of older workers:

Education: People without a high school education are less likely to change careers.  When they leave the labor force it tends to be permanent. People with graduate degrees are also less likely to change careers, because they “have accumulated specialized knowledge and skills that may be difficult to utilize in new careers.” However, just among people who retired but later returned to work, more education improves the likelihood of finding a new job.

Wealth: Late-career transitions are unusual for people in households with more than $300,000 in wealth. One reason may be that they can afford to retire.

Gender: Older men are slightly more likely to make a career change than are older women. “Re-careering” is also less common among Hispanics, union workers, and people with health problems. It is also less common among older workers with traditional pensions and retiree health benefits, perhaps because they are more prepared financially to retire.

To read profiles of two retirees who went back to work, click here.

For a profile of an “anti-retirement advocate,” click here.

Mark Zoril

Excellent post and very, very relevant to the real world! I have seen this so many times over my career as an adviser. Many of my clients still want to work, in some capacity, but more on their own terms. Many find jobs which would have been “beneath” them earlier in their career. But later in life, they have a better appreciation of how valuable simply having a stress-free or low-stress job can be. Many want a job where they can show up, do the work, and leave the work behind when they go home. (Sometimes I would like that too!!) Also, they have come to terms with their own professional limitations – they have realized what they can and cannot do.

Chuck Miller

With the negative effect a late-career change could have on retiree income, the stress of what they lose could come back in spades after retirement.

Paul Curley

Great article, and timely as well. Thank you for providing.

Igor Adamovic

It’s nice to change a career. I done that twice already. I can’t imagine the life with just one career. That would be a boring life.

David Matine

That really is great news. Especially since it might be necessary for older workers to change jobs frequently. If you are indeed an older worker who lives in the state of Colorado a great resource for finding a new career is

James Davis

Nice article. Late career job changes can reduce stress because sometimes older workers get bored with their job and salary, so maybe taking a step to change a job can let them had a good salaried job.

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