Older Workers Embrace Career Change, Less Stress

By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer

CHICAGO -- Less pay, fewer benefits, lower prestige -- and greater job satisfaction.

Older workers and retirees moving into different lines of work can take heart from a study that finds they are likely to enjoy their new jobs more than their old ones.

In an era when pink slips are flying and some career paths may be cut short because of the economy, many job switches may be forced rather than voluntary.

But whatever the reason, there's new evidence that suggests career changes work out well for the overwhelming majority of older workers because of reduced stress and flexible work schedules.

AARP followed over-50 workers for more than a decade to study career changes and find out how they fared. In all, 91% of the study group said they enjoyed their new jobs, a significant bump from a 79% thumbs-up for their old jobs.

"The study shows dramatically that workers are putting a premium on reduced stress as they downshift a bit," says Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute.

A report was released this month on the study, based on 1,705 workers nationwide surveyed over a 14-year period beginning in 1992. The study was conducted for the AARP Public Policy Institute by The Urban Institute of Washington.

"The current downturn presents a real bump in the road," Reinhard said. "But for the future, the findings are a welcome signal that workers 50 and over can really enjoy themselves while remaining productive in a vibrant economy."

Already common, career change among older workers is likely to grow as the baby-boom generation nears traditional retirement age.

Murray Scureman, 70, of Potomac, Md., didn't wait for a recession to make the leap. He walked away from a lucrative job as lobbyist for a computer manufacturer to pursue his passion: building.

Today the one-time systems engineer, who is divorced, runs a successful home renovation business and doesn't look back, even though he makes roughly half his old corporate salary of about $200,000.

"It's about 'What do you want to do when you grow up?"' he says.

Scureman knew it was time to act when he started to eat, sleep and think renovation at his old job -- doodling in meetings while giving his own home a makeover in his free time. He finally left to start a business with a builder before striking out on his own with Denham Development Group.

The new job isn't so new any more -- he made the leap in 1998 - but he loves it no less than he did a decade ago. While overseeing crews at a handful of project sites daily he likes to work up a sweat, unloading trucks, carrying 2-by-4s and swinging a hammer.

"I think it's what's keeping me going," says Scureman, who wasn't a subject of the AARP study, but fits the findings. "When I was in corporate America, I would get sick up to three times a year, catching whatever went through the office. I haven't been sick in 10 years."

The study tracked full-time workers who were 51 to 55 years old in 1992. Two-thirds of workers who changed jobs between then and 2006 -- and 27% of all the workers -- switched occupations.

Their new careers, including part-time work, paid significantly less per hour: a median hourly wage of $10.86 in 2007 dollars, down from $16.86 in the old job. Nearly a quarter of the career-changers lost health insurance benefits and many gave up pensions. The jobs tended to have less social standing than the earlier work, with many former managers moving into sales.

But the findings point to two factors that offset that and resulted in higher job enjoyment overall:

• Only 36% of those surveyed reported stressful work conditions in the new job, a sharp drop from 65% in the old job.

• About 45% said they had a flexible work schedule in the new job, vs. 27% in the previous job.

Mal Krinn made the switch when he had the chance to turn a hobby into a second profession.

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Not many people would willingly leave the security of an established doctor's practice for a job in a kitchen. Krinn did that at age 62, going to work for his son, a chef and restaurateur. Seven years later, he has no regrets about having given up doctor's dough to create and knead bread dough, which he does at Jonathan's chic restaurant Inox in Tysons Corner, Va.

"One day I was in the office and the next day I was a full-time breadmaker," he said.

Krinn had enjoyed cooking and baking bread for his family for decades. If his son hadn't gone into business, he figures he'd still be doing that, along with practicing ophthalmology.

But like the study subjects, a change for a new occupation presented itself and he embraced it. Now his transition may serve to inspire older workers who are looking for a new career with different challenges.

"If you pursue things that interest you when you're younger, who knows where it can lead to?" he said. "You find out that you could actually go into what you got a kick out of all those years."

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