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 10 to 15 times (with an average of 12 job changes) 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 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average employee tenure was 4.2 years, down from 4.6 years in January 2014.

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 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. 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 11.8 jobs, and women held 11.5 jobs. Twenty-five percent held 15 jobs or more while 12 percent held four jobs or less.

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, workers held an average of only 2.1 to 2.4 jobs during the four-year periods of their lives that they were 25 to 29, 30 to 34 and 35 to 39. During the most established phase of many workers' careers, ages 40 to 48, workers held only an average of 2.4 jobs.

White workers held slightly more jobs from age 18 to 48 than their Hispanic or Black counterparts, 11.7 to 11.4 jobs.

People born in the 1960s to the 1980s averaged two job changes by 32 years old, while present-day youth is closer to three or four. There are many theories for why this is. Seemingly, universities, employees, and companies are more focused on acquiring transferable skills relevant to many job sectors than they once were.

Average Duration of Jobs

A higher percentage of younger workers had short duration jobs. Among jobs started by workers with ages from 25 to 29, 87 percent had an average length of employment of fewer than five years as compared to 83 percent of workers with ages from 30 to 34. 

Seventy-six percent of workers with ages from 35 to 39 had an average job duration of fewer than five years, and this figure declined to 69 percent for workers from ages of 40 to 48. There was little variation in average job duration by race with Hispanics and Blacks spending only a slightly shorter average length of time in each job.

The job sectors most frequently “changed” include media and entertainment, government, non-profits, law, and marketing.

Reasons for Changing Jobs

Some 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