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How Britain’s career paths are changing

Britons are now looking forward to a longer working life, with many of them inspired by celebrities and sports stars who have “retired” young from their first career and followed a passion to reinvent themselves.

Our research reveals that today’s working population is likely to change career twice throughout their working lives, with more than one in four changing career to pursue a passion. The best age for reinvention has been identified as 33, but many are continuing to choose different career paths in later years and even into retirement.

The Evolution of the Career Path

In the past, it was more common to have a “job for life” and to work your way up the ladder within one company or sector, until it was time to retire. Our research supports this - just one third of people over the age of 70 have changed careers during their career.

In contrast, younger workers aged 18‐29 are twice as likely to drastically change career directions, with nearly two in three saying they have already changed careers at least once - or are planning to in the near future.

This seems to be a growing trend across generations; as opportunities for reinvention become more realistic, older workers are making changes in their careers too. Over 80% of people over the age of 50 who changed career did so when they were over the age of 40; more than one in ten haven’t changed careers yet, but plan to do so before they retire.

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According to Professor Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School, people are increasingly taking responsibility for their career paths due to a number of factors: the demise of a ‘job for life’ mentality, fewer opportunities for progression, uncertainties over job security and the recognition that they are likely to be working much longer. She explains: “Research suggests that commitment to one’s job has declined amongst all employees over the past 20 years, but particularly amongst those over 50.”

“As people adapt to all of the factors changing our career environments – from the unstable financial climate, technological innovations, and an ageing working population – they are realising the need to be more self-reliant in achieving their ultimate aspirations, and this often means reinventing themselves to start on a new path.”

Beyond following their passions, lots of us are motivated by factors including unhappiness in their current job (35%) and to earnmore (31%). However, making such a big step is not without challenges; people see lack of finances as the biggest barrier towards changing career (45%), followed by lack of confidence (35%), and demands of family (28%). Over a quarter of us feel apprehensive about career changes, and more than one in ten are scared of it.

Preparing for Change

Those under 30 appear to be the most prepared for change; 62% of the people under 30 who had changed career were aware of the costs involved and had put a plan in place in advance, while only 48% of people aged 30‐49 and 40% of people over 50 were prepared. This could be due in part to the fact that people over 30 were at least 10% more likely to have been forced to change career.

When considering the financial implications of changing career, nearly one in three people have or would use savings to cover the cost; one in ten has or would fund it with a loan, and 11% has or would use their pension to help with the transition - though this is only possible for those over 55 as younger workers are unable to access their pension pot.

Protecting pension pots is also an important factor. A quarter of us said they have or would transfer their old pension into a new scheme or personal pension.More than one in four (27%) have or would freeze their old pension and start a new pension scheme, and 8% would freeze their old scheme but not start a new one. However, 40% of the public do not have an employer pension; this is highest amongst 18‐29 year olds, of which 59% don’t have a pension.

Robert Cochran, key accounts pension development manager at Scottish Widows, said: “Automatic Enrolment will increase pension scheme take-up but the frequency that we are changing jobs means it is more important than ever to safeguard your pension. As the state pension age increases and we look forward to a longer retirement, it’s crucial to have a plan to make sure your savings are protected and you are continuously putting away money and checking against your life plan regardless of the changes you are making in your career along the way.”

Top Celebrity Reinventions

When it comes to celebrity reinventions, the nation believes Victoria Beckham has been the most successful as she moved from pop star to fashion designer. We also rate the reinventions of Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor to US governor) and John Bishop (pharmaceuticals sales to comedian).

According to Britain, the top celebrity reinventions are:


  • 1 Victoria Beckham
  • 2 Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • 3 John Bishop
  • 4 Harry Hill
  • 5 Brian May
  • 6 Myleene Klass
  • 7 Vinnie Jones
  • 8 Kim Wilde
  • 9 Gwyneth Paltrow
  • 10 Hugh Dennis
  • 11 Dwayne Johnson


This survey by OnePoll was conducted with 2,700 people across Britain in October – November 2013.


Our recent study shows that today’s working population is likely to change career twice throughout their working lives. What new challenges would you like to take on in retirement and how will you safe guard your pension? Read case study

Our recent study shows the Victoria Beckham is Britain’s number one celebrity career reinvention. Which new career would you like to take on and how will you safe guard your pension? Read case study

Press release