Encore Career Survey: Millions in Encore Careers

The encore career is emerging as a major social trend.

There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence that people are launching a new stage of work that combines social impact with personal meaning and continued income. Now a nationwide survey shows these pioneers may represent millions of others, and may be followed by tens of millions more.

The 2008 Encore Career Survey, sponsored by MetLife Foundation and Encore.org (formerly Civic Ventures), found that between 6 percent and 9.5 percent of Americans ages 44 to 70 are already in their encore careers, even if they don’t yet use that term. That puts the population of Encore Nation at somewhere between 5.3 million and 8.4 million.

“This is the first national survey to uncover evidence that the encore career is more than an appealing idea,” said Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org, a nonprofit organization working to promote encore careers – second acts for the greater good. "Unexpectedly large numbers of boomers are looking for purpose-driven jobs that provide them with both means and meaning. That’s great for them and great for the rest of us, too."

The best may be yet to come, according to the survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. Of those people not already in encore careers, 50 percent say they want to have one. In other words, more than half of our nation’s 80 million baby boomers are using or want to use their talents to improve society by working in fields such as education, public service, health care and the nonprofit sector. Interest in encore careers is even higher among younger boomers, aged 44 to 50.

Many of those currently in encore careers found or created their roles without help, since only a few organizations are actively seizing the encore opportunity. Many more people would pursue encore careers if they were easier to find.

“The people who are pursuing encore careers are true pioneers,” said Sibyl Jacobson, president and CEO of the MetLife Foundation. “They are blazing not only their own path but also one for those just behind them – workers who share their aspirations but have not taken the plunge.”

The potential of this movement is tremendous. If just 5 percent of boomers launch 10-year encore careers, that would amount to almost 40 million human-years of talent applied to solving problems in their communities and the world.

The survey found that those who are working in encore careers are happy with them. Eighty-four percent said they derive a “tremendous amount” (38 percent) or “quite a bit” (46 percent) of satisfaction in them. And 94 percent said they have seen positive results of their work and know they are making a difference.

The report found that most of those interested in finding encore careers are worried that they may be hard to find or may not meet their needs for flexible work hours and adequate income and benefits. But respondents who are currently in encore careers reported having few problems with these issues. Although most work full time, 73 percent said they have the flexibility they want and 76 percent reported having the pay and benefits they need.

Two concerns of would-be encore careerists were borne out by the survey. Forty-one percent of those in encore careers said learning new technology and skills was an issue and about one-third reported having to cope with a loss of seniority or status. Phyllis Segal, vice president of Encore.org, acknowledged this new stage of work will require adjustments.

Freedman said, “Instead of encouraging people to leave the workforce, encore careers inspire people to stay longer to help their communities – and fill vital workforce shortages. But to truly capitalize on this tremendous opportunity, we must open minds – and doors – to what is possible and needed.”

For the full survey, press release, thought pieces and charts, and a two-page summary flyer, go to the Encore Career Survey page.

To see some of the media coverage of the survey, click here.