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 40 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 or when cheaper labor or technology can replace workers.

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, leading some employees to jump to a new job for a more significant pay increase. Staying at the same place over the long haul can cost workers thousands of dollars with no real reward in terms of job security.

It can be difficult to determine the number of times people have changed jobs throughout their working lives, due in part that there is no current consensus on what is considered a career change. For some, an internal transfer or a promotion may be considered a change, while others only consider it a job change if there is a jump to a new company.

Not only is the definition of a job 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 number of jobs in a lifetime is 12, according to a 2019  Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) report.

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 employment status has become an ongoing process, rather than something done once or twice during a 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 had 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, they held only an average of 1.7 jobs.

From age 18 to age 24, Whites had more job changes 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 among the different groups. 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 ages 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:

  • Seeking 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