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Blog>Trends>Midlife Career Crisis

Midlife Career Crisis

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The world treats careers and professional growth as a zero-sum game: One person’s opportunity appears to be someone else’s loss. If you don’t fight for that promotion or stand out in an interview, another candidate will take your spot. Sometimes, however, the career move that makes the most sense is finding a new job.

This leap, daunting as it may be, appeals to many workers who have become stagnant or apathetic in their current roles. As people’s tastes and interests evolve, so do their preferences for how they’d like to earn a living. Nearly a third of first-time college students change their major at some point during the first three years of their undergraduate studies, so why are adults who desire to change careers stigmatized or discouraged?

We analyzed comprehensive data on job tenure from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) and surveyed over 1,000 people who had switched careers in the past five years. In this context, a career switch was defined as “a switch in profession.”

Why do people choose to adjust their course and follow a new passion? Our full findings are detailed below.

Professional Changes

Highly technical sciences, skilled work such as architecture, and specialized trade jobs carried the lowest turnover rates in the job market, with dentistry boasting a near-zero rate of workers changing careers. These professions require years of training or education, making them lucrative work opportunities from which few are willing to part.

Hospitality industry saw the highest rate of career changes in the past five years while 0% of dentist had made a change. Young professionals who had some college education we're also the most likely to make a change.

On the other hand, the hospitality field suffered the most from career changes. Turnover rates topped 19% for front desk clerks and hotel receptionists. This may be due to the high rates of seasonal work and the high rotation of workers in the field, leading to the near-constant training of new employees.

Younger workers, given their desire to frequently move about jobs and those with less education were also the most likely to change careers.

Common Causes for Professional Restlessness

Nearly half of respondents switched jobs for better pay, a competitive reason and logical first spot on the list. Finances play a major role in job satisfaction and can affect a person’s likelihood of looking for new work. Money acts as a double-edged sword, though — on the one hand, workplace frustrations and low salaries can push workers into new opportunities; on the other, changing jobs can be risky if the opportunity doesn’t result in higher pay in the long run.

Better pay was the #1 reason people made a career switch. Childcare and health reasons were the least likely to cause a change.

Each generation views their role in the workplace differently, and our survey captured that younger workers gravitated toward the idea of a career change more than their older counterparts. In fact, millennials were 20% more likely to entertain a job change because of better pay or because their previous job was too stressful.

Millennials are less likely to have job loyalty, chasing the roles that offer lower stress, a reasonable work-life balance, and better pay. Younger workers also don’t have tenure to consider and are likely to be more flexible. As a result, this creates employees who have higher standards about which workplace is right for their career and desires.

Career Changes Lead to Happier, Less Stressed Employees

Respondents who took the plunge and changed professions reported a variety of positive outcomes. The majority of workers surveyed expressed feeling happier, more satisfied and fulfilled, and less stressed after moving on to a new career.

Majority of people who made a change in career reported being more happy, satisfied, fulfilled and less stressed.

Beyond emotional gratification and improvements to overall well-being at work, professionals who changed their careers for better pay earned an additional $10,800 annually compared to their former jobs.

At the end of the day though, money (while an extremely important factor when considering a career change) didn’t have that significant of an impact on emotional improvement. In fact, workers who earned less at their new job were more likely to have less stress compared to people who earned more.

Professional Success, Few Regrets Among New Career Seekers

Overwhelmingly, respondents did not experience regret when changing careers: Over 80% of survey participants said they wish they would have made the change sooner – two years sooner, in fact.

One reason some may delay the new job hunt comes down to money. Two-thirds of respondents had some type of savings before seeking new work, with most securing around seven months of pay prior to leaving their current job.

75% of respondents said they would make the change again if they had to.

Bringing your significant other into the conversation gives both partners the ability to discuss a joint financial future. Half of all respondents said a job change helped improve their relationship for the better, and only 9% claimed the relationship suffered. Workplace stress is notoriously involved in the demise of many couples, unfortunately.

Considering a Job Change? Follow These Tips for Success

The effects of workplace unhappiness can hurt employees and result in negative consequences for the entire company if the problem is chronic. Regardless of where you are in your career, a change may be just what you need to find a better work-life balance or a higher salary.

Even if you are simply entertaining the idea of a career change, financial stability can better equip someone to make an informed decision. Consider having money set aside, and research any and all options that appeal to you.

Looking for a new job, but not sure where to start? Head over to Joblist to find a comprehensive database of job postings that can lead you down your desired career path.


Current Population Survey (CPS) for the first graphic and our own survey execution for the following three.

For the CPS data, we collected survey responses from 2010 through 2018. The Job Tenure and Occupational Mobility Supplemental survey that asks respondents whether they are still doing the same kind of work from the year prior is administered biennially. Occupations were defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and IPUMS.

Only those who said they were employed full-time or self-employed and had switched careers in the last five years qualified for our survey. A career switch was defined as a “switch in profession.” The example that was provided for respondents was a switch from being a teacher to an IT specialist.

There was an attention-check question that was placed roughly halfway through the survey. Those who failed were disqualified, and their responses were excluded.


Survey responses rely on self-reported data. There are certain limitations to this sort of data, including but not limited to telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory.

Fair Use Statement

Interested in switching careers? As we saw in our study, the grass really can be greener on the other side. Feel free to share this study with your readers. All we ask is that it is for noncommercial purposes and that you link back to this article.

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