Seven Careers In Your Lifetime? Are You Sure?

Last week, the WSJ took on the oft-thrown around statistic that “the average American will have seven careers in their lifetime.”

That’s not entirely true, say economists and analysts. But nor is there incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

While everyone can cite the example of “that one friend” they have who went from being a bartender to real estate agent to personal trainer to salesperson, most people’s career paths are less jagged. Younger workers change jobs and careers more often, partially because it’s easier to bump around in entry-level gigs and partially because whatever summer job you get in high school or college might be totally different from the next summer’s job.

But a midlife career switch is a much bigger deal. It involves, usually, going back to school and often taking a pay cut.

A career, of course, is not the same as a job, and the WSJ notes that workers have had, on average, 10.8 jobs between 1979 and now. And over the past decade, at least, workers’ tenure with their current jobs hasn’t changed much: in 2008, 22.9 percent of workers had been with their current employer for 12 months or less, compared to 26 percent in 1996.

At the same time, as younger workers enter the workforce, these numbers may change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is only now starting to survey workers born between 1980 and 1984, and according to an unrelated study reported by Human Resource Executive Online, many more workers aged 20-29 were considering switching jobs in the next year than any other age group.

But switching careers? Still no dice.