Skip to content

Looking for a part-time job? AARP's online career fair Jan. 24 can help! Register for free.



Reflections on Life & Career

To understand how adults in their 40s and 50s feel about their lives and careers, Life Reimagined and USA TODAY commissioned an independent research firm to survey adults ages 40-59.

The following are key findings from the survey:

  • Although satisfied with life, adults ages 40-59 are still interested in making changes. In fact, half feel something is missing in their life.
  • Many elements contribute to the definition of living “a good life” among people in their 40s and 50s. The most popular resource people turn to in their pursuit of it is family and friends, followed by reading material.
  • Satisfaction with most areas of life is high among those ages 40-59, yet there are still some gaps with key elements of living “a good life.”
  • Lack of confidence is not an obstacle to change among adults in their 40s and 50s.
  • While priorities have changed and more adults ages 40-59 give thought to their future, few have changed the amount they focus on their own happiness.
  • Triggers of change in the last five years among people in their 40s and 50s are led by stress, followed by caregiving responsibilities, and the death of someone close.
  • While most people ages 40-59 like their job, half would quit if they could.
  • High pay and good work-life balance are the leading components of a dream job for nearly a quarter of those employed or looking for work in their 40s and 50s.
  • Needing to be financially responsible tops the list of biggest obstacles to landing one’s dream job among those 40-59 years old
  •  Most 40-59 year-olds who are employed or looking for work have not experienced a major career shift. Similarly, most do not expect to go through one in the future.
  • Reasons for previous major career shifts vary among those in their 40s and 50s – most often shifts are due to an employee’s desire for change but frequently they are also due to forces beyond the employee’s control.
  • Among those ages 40-59, predicted reasons for major career shifts in the future are much more likely to include an employee’s desire for change than changes in their industry or in the economy.
  • Few people in their 40s and 50s who are employed or looking for work feel that changes in the economy and technology over recent years have had a positive impact on their careers. However, a plurality have begun to see an improvement in their job prospects with the economy slowly improving. The economy is most often cited as having the biggest impact on careers, followed by changes in family needs.
  • Looking ahead, roughly half anticipate new work-related opportunities due to changes in the economy and due to skills they have developed.
  • Nearly three in ten 40-59 year-olds who are employed or looking for work plan to make a career change in the next five years. Most cite multiple reasons for the planned change.
  • Adults in their 40s and 50s expect to be more active than their parents.

The future holds promise for adults in their 40s and 50s. Building from a place of contentment with their lives, they are open to making changes that will offer further enhancements. Most are optimistic about their jobs and do not anticipate major changes beyond those they will initiate. As this age cohort shifts priorities and thinks about their future more than they used to, real possibilities exist for them to reimagine their lives. 

The survey was fielded by Woelfel Research, Inc. from May 15 to May 29, 2014. A total of 1,006 telephone interviews were completed with adults ages 40-59 in the United States. The results from the study were weighted to be nationally representative.  For more information, contact Colette Thayer at


Suggested Citation:

Thayer, Colette. Reflections on Life & Career. Washington, DC: AARP Research, July 2014.

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.