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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.

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