How Often Do People Change Jobs?

New employee shaking hands
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People no longer work for one company for their whole career, retiring after 50 years with a pension and a gold watch. For one thing, employers are less loyal than they used to be; layoffs are common during recessions. For another, employees may find it too expensive to be committed to one employer for years on end. Raises tend to hover around 3 percent on average, while jumping to a new job might mean a significant pay increase. The result is that staying at the same place for long could cost workers thousands of dollars with no real reward in terms of job security.

So, employers discharge employees more readily than in the past when business conditions change or productivity lags. And, workers now migrate from job to job over their career in search of greater fulfillment and compensation.

It can be difficult to determine the number of times people have changed jobs throughout their working lives. The main reason is that there is no current consensus on what is considered a career change.

For some, an internal transfer may be considered a change, while others would only consider a jump to a new company. A promotion or internal occupational change may be a career change for some workers, but others may define it differently. Not only is the definition of change in and of itself complicated, but even seemingly minute details like the duration of time a person must stay in a role for it to be considered a career are up for debate.

The Average Number of Times People Change Jobs

Fuzzy definitions aside, the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during his or her career.

Many workers spend five years or less in every job, so they devote more time and energy transitioning from one job to another. In January 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median employee tenure was 4.3 years for men and 4.0 years for women.

Because job changes are frequent, it's more important than ever before for workers to be experts at job searching and networking. The successful worker is one who is up-to-date on trends in their industry as well as practiced at interviewing and connecting with potential employers. Upgrading your employment status has become an ongoing process, rather than something you do once or twice during your career.

Gender and Age Factors

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.9 jobs from ages 18 to 50. Remarkably, women held almost as many jobs as men despite taking more time out of their career for child-rearing activities. On average, men held 12.1 jobs, and women held 11.6 jobs.

A worker's age impacted the number of jobs that they held in any period. Workers held an average of 5.5 jobs during the six-year period when they were 18 to 24 years old.

However, the number of jobs held declined with age. Workers held an average of 4.5 jobs when they were 25 to 34 years old and 2.8 jobs when they were 35 to 44 years old. During the most established phase of many workers' careers, ages 45 to 50, workers held only an average of 1.7 jobs.

From age 18 to age 24, Whites held more jobs than Blacks, or Hispanics or Latinos. On average, Whites held 5.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 24, while Blacks held 4.6 jobs, and Hispanics or Latinos held 4.9 jobs. There were only minor differences in later age ranges. Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics or Latinos held between 4.3 and 4.6 jobs from age 25 to age 34, and between 2.9 and 3.2 jobs from age 35 to age 44. From age 45 to age 50, Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics or Latinos all held an average of 1.7 jobs. 

Average Duration of Jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Tenure Report notes that a high percentage of younger workers had short duration jobs. Among jobs held by workers with ages from 25 to 34, the median tenure is 2.8 years,

From ages 35 to 44, the median job duration was 4.9 years, and from 45 to 54, the median tenure at a job was 7.6 years. Median tenure rose to 10.1 years for workers aged 55 to 64.

The job sectors with the highest median tenure include management, legal, and education. Workers in service occupations had the lowest median tenure.

Reasons for Changing Jobs

Some examples of the common reasons that workers change jobs include:

  • Higher pay
  • Better benefits and perks
  • Relocation to a different geographic area
  • Career advancement
  • Choosing a less stressful job
  • Escaping an incompetent or negative boss
  • Changing career focus
  • Better work-life balance
  • Reorganization at their company
  • Layoff due to duplication of their job resulting from a merger or acquisition
  • More interesting work
  • Better work schedule
  • Skills and abilities didn't fit the job
  • Lack of recognition for accomplishments
  • Outsourcing of job function
  • Company moved to a new location
  • Better alignment between personal values and organizational priorities