How Many Jobs?

by Rachel Vilsack

A frequent request I get is “how many jobs does the average person hold during their lifetime?” Whether the answer is intended to help youth realize the life-long career journey or coach mature workers on the impermanence of jobs, it’s a good question. Surprisingly, it always proves a little difficult to answer.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is probably the best source for questions about jobs. A quick look at frequently asked questions reveals that an estimate on the number of times people change careers hasn’t been attempted, because “…no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change.” The BLS also notes that “…the total number of jobs that people hold during their work life is an easy concept to understand but a difficult one to measure. Reliable estimates require a survey that interviews the same people over the course of their entire work life and also keeps track of all the jobs they ever held.”


To that end, the BLS can answer the question through longitudinal surveys they conduct, which follow the same participants across time. For example, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 tracks young men and women born between 1980 and 1984, capturing their employment experiences, training and schooling, among other topics. The 14th round of the survey was just released (pdf) and captures answers to this very question.


Individuals born from 1980 to 1984 held an average of 6.3 jobs from ages 19 to 25. Some other findings from the survey include:

  • Men held an average of 4.0 jobs from ages 18 to 21 and 3.2 jobs from ages 22 to 25.
  • Women held an average of 4.2 jobs and 3.2 jobs at those ages.
  • In general, individuals with more education held more jobs, worked more weeks, and were less likely to be out of the labor force from ages 22 to 25.


The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 tracked people born between 1957 and 1964 in the latter years of the baby boom. Survey results (pdf) found that individuals born during this time held an average of 11.3 jobs from ages 18 to 46. A more detailed breakdown of jobs by age is also available.


How does the number of jobs you’ve held compare to these survey results?


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