What's Keeping Americans from Fulfilling Their Career Dreams?

Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong: there are second acts in American lives. An estimated 31 million Americans ages 44 to 70 hope to have encore careers that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact, new research shows. The only thing holding many of them back is money.

The financial challenges posed by midlife career changes are hampering the plans of millions of people who are interested in new careers that can put their experience to work for the greater good, according to a joint study by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purposes.

Half of those interested in encore careers expect the transition to be difficult and, of those, 59 percent expect the main obstacle in making the transition to be financial, the study found. 

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The hard truth of their expectations is borne out by the experience of the 9 million people who are already working in encore careers. More than two in three people (67 percent) experienced gaps in their personal income during the transition to their encores, reporting that they earned no money (24 percent) or that they earned significantly less during the transition that they earned in their previous jobs (43 percent).

Their transitions also required significant time and effort. Those already in encore careers started to think about their encores at age 50 and took 18 months to make the transition, the study found. Many took specific steps to prepare: Nearly one in four (23 percent) participated in local volunteer programs; 20 percent enrolled in education or training courses; and 13 percent volunteered at their local places of worship.

Some also want to exercise their entrepreneurial bent to forge an encore career. Approximately 12 million Americans in this group said they were interested in starting their own nonprofits or social ventures, the study found.

But some of those interested in encore careers are not ready to make the transition: Four in ten respondents (40 percent) said they do not feel secure enough financially to make a career change in this economy; nearly three in 10 (29 percent) do not know which type of job or career to pursue; and 16 percent do not have the time to explore a new career.

"This research highlights the growing trend – even in this economic climate – of experienced Americans who want to apply their expertise and passion to new careers with purpose," said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation. "Helping people manage their transition to encore careers is a key challenge. This research provides valuable information for how we, as a society, can realize the promise of millions of people as they pursue encore careers."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.