Skip to main content

Is There an ‘Encore’ Career In Your Future?

Resource type: News

The Wall Street Journal |

Original Source By ROBERT POWELL MarketWatch An estimated 6% to 9.5% of Americans ages 44 to 70, or as many as 5.3 million to 8.4 million people, are working in what are called “encore” careers — careers that provide not just income but also purpose and meaning. The remaining 80 million Americans ages 44 to 70 are either slaving away in careers without purpose (half of them pine for an encore career), or taking it easy, living a more traditional retirement. A new study released Wednesday, the MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey, sheds light on those currently in an encore career, those pining away to work in an encore career, and those who have no desire to work again. Real, but not insurmountable, barriers The good news is encore carriers don’t always entail greeting shoppers in retail stores. About three in 10 Americans “currently in an encore career,” or CEC, are working in education, 23% are working in health care, 16% in government, 13% in non-profit organizations and 9% in for-profit businesses that serve a public good. Most — six in 10 — work 40 hours per week or more and the majority of CECs say they are very satisfied with their jobs. The majority of CECs share some notable characteristics, according to the study. They tend to be pre-retirees, between the ages of 51 and 62, rather than retirees. They are more likely to be female than male, 56% to 44%, respectively. They are more likely to be professionals, managers and white-collar workers than blue collar workers. And they are more likely to be college-educated than not. Boomers who are hoping for an encore career face real, but not insurmountable, barriers. Americans apparently long to work in a career that provides income and meaning. The study suggests that while it may be difficult to find such work, it can be done. What’s more, those in encore jobs say concerns about flexibility, income and benefits, and age discrimination didn’t materialize. But what those seeking an encore job will have to worry about is this: One-third of Americans in encore jobs have encountered retraining issues and they have experienced difficulty in getting used to less seniority and less status. Not everyone wants another career Not all Americans want to keep their nose to the grindstone. Americans fall into one of two broad categories, said Phyllis Moen, co-author of “The Career Mystique: Cracks in the American Dream” and contributor to the MetLife/Civic Ventures study. They either view retirement as a second chapter — the “potentials” — or they view it as a time to take it easy – “the traditionalists.” Consider: Of those surveyed who say they are already retired, nine in 10 traditionalists don’t plan on going back to work. By contrast, just one in three potentials say they will not return to work. And of those still in the workforce in their main jobs, three in four potentials plan to work full time at another job after retiring, compared with just one in four traditionalists. Why the difference? According to Moen, there are several reasons. Health status. The potentials seem to be healthier than the traditionalists. Forty percent say they are in excellent health compared with 28% of potentials. What’s more, just 12% of potentials say they are in poor or fair health vs. 25% of traditionalists. Age. Not surprisingly, the potentials tend to be younger than the traditionalists. They are also less likely to be burned out by their main jobs, Moen wrote in the study. One in four traditionalists is in the oldest age group (63-70) vs. 15% of the potentials. Attitudes. People who exhibit a great deal of forward thinking and competence for planning are better prepared for life’s later exigencies. Not surprisingly, the potentials are far more focused on planning than the traditionalists, Moen wrote. To wit: The not-yet-retired potentials plan to retire both younger (under age 60) and older (age 70 or older) than not-yet-retired traditionalists. Traditionalists, meanwhile, are more likely to say they will never retire, or they aren’t sure when they will retire. Midlife work. Not surprisingly, job level also makes a difference when it comes to potentials and traditionalists. The potentials tend to be professionals and managers, 45% vs. 28% for traditionalists. Education. The potentials are also more likely to be better educated than the traditionalists. For instance, more than two in five (43%) of traditionalists have a high school diploma or less, compared to 13% of the potentials. Social isolation. Traditionalists are far more likely to be socially isolated than potentials. Four in 10 traditionalists define themselves as retired vs. just 20% for potentials. In addition, traditionalists are more likely to live in rural areas and are more likely to say they haven’t done any volunteer work in recent years, increasing the potential for social isolation. What’s the upshot of all this? Some Americans will find work and meaning after retiring from their main job. But odds are that only the most educated, healthiest, and professional of Americans will find the encore job of their life. The rest of America may be greeting those encore workers when they shop at Wal-Mart.

Related Resources



Global Impact:

United States


Civic Ventures, retirement