How Often Do People Change Jobs During a Lifetime?

New employee shaking hands with managers
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The old ideal of retiring after 40 years with one company, taking home a pension and a gold watch, is fading into the past. For many reasons, more Americans are changing jobs several times throughout their careers.

For one thing, only 54% of workers think their employer is loyal to them, so that may lead to a greater willingness to change jobs. For another, employees may find it too expensive to be committed to one employer for years on end. Raises have been hovering around 3% 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) survey of baby boomers.

Many workers spend five years or less in every job, so they devote more time and energy transitioning from one job to another. In its 2018 Employee Tenure Summary, the BLS 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

Remarkably, the BLS survey revealed that women held almost as many jobs as men throughout their careers, despite taking more time out of their careers for child-rearing activities. On average, men held 12.5 jobs, and women held 12.1 jobs.

A worker's age impacted the number of jobs that they held in any period. Workers held an average of 5.7 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 2.9 jobs when they were 35 to 44 years old. During the most established phase of many workers' careers, ages 45 to 52, they held only an average of 1.9 jobs.

From age 18 to age 24, whites made more job changes than blacks or Latinos. Whites held 5.9 jobs between the ages of 18 and 24, while blacks held 4.8 jobs, and Latinos held 5.1 jobs. There were only minor differences in later age ranges among the different groups. Whites, blacks, and Latinos held between 4.3 and 4.6 jobs from age 25 to age 34, and between 2.9 and 3.1 jobs from age 35 to age 44. From age 45 to age 52, all three groups held an average of 1.9 jobs. 

Average Duration of Jobs

The BLS Employee Tenure Summary notes that a high percentage of younger workers had short-duration jobs as of January 2018. 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, engineering, 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

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, and Earnings Growth: Results From a National Longitudinal Survey." Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

  2. CareerBuilder. "Nearly Three in Four Employers Affected by a Bad Hire, According to a Recent CareerBuilder Survey." Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

  3. Society for Human Resource Management. "2019 Salary Budgets Inch Upward Ever So Slightly." Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employee Tenure Summary." Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.