Generation stuck in midlife career rut risk exacerbating economic inactivity without better support

New research from Phoenix Insights and Ipsos shows a third of 45 to 54-year-olds (midlifers) expect to change career before retirement*, but only 15% of this age group have received careers advice.**

  • Almost half (48%) of midlifers have not done anything in relation to their career in last six months – compared to 30% of 35 to 44-year-olds.**
  • Think tank warns economic inactivity amongst over 50s will remain high unless government does more to signpost mid-life career support.
  • Low awareness of careers guidance available is a factor holding back some midlife job changes – with half (51%) of all 45 to 54-year-olds unaware of any careers information or advice services.**
  • New campaign ‘Careers can change’ brings together leading organisations to demonstrate it is never too late to consider changing career.

New research from Phoenix Insights, the longevity think tank set up by Phoenix Group, has found that midlifers are ‘stuck’ feeling underprepared and unequipped to make beneficial career moves which could keep them more fulfilled in the workforce for longer, risking thousands more retiring prematurely and exacerbating economic inactivity amongst the over 50s.*

A third (33%) of 45 to 54-year-olds expect to change career before they retire*, yet new research conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Phoenix Insights has shown this group is over 60% more likely than 35  to 44-year-olds to have not taken actions related to their career in last six months (48% vs 30%) and just 15% of this age group have received careers advice in the last three years.**

Out of 3,345 UK adults surveyed as part of the Career Advice for Longer Lives report, two-fifths (42%) of those working aged 45 to 54 have been in their current main job for 11 years or over. Three in 10 (30%) of all midlifers disagreed that they have a clear plan for the rest of the time they spend working until they retire, rising to over a third of women in this age group (34%).

Lack of awareness and confidence preventing career moves

A lack of awareness of careers advice is one of the factors holding back mid-life career changes. Over half (51%) of 45 to 54-year-olds have never heard of any careers information or advice services and more than six in 10 workers (62%) have not received off-the-job training[1] from their employer in the past 12 months.

Phoenix Insights also found a lack of confidence prevents these workers from seeking new opportunities. Research showed that among those working (45 – 54), the most common reasons for holding back from job changes included their age (21%) or that ‘it’s too late’ (16%). Low confidence disproportionately impacts women – 18% of women (compared to 10% of men) aged 45 to 54 say confidence is holding them back from changing jobs.

Catherine Sermon, Head of Public Engagement and Campaigns at Phoenix Insights, commented: “It’s worrying how many adults don’t feel they have the tools or confidence to make beneficial changes to their career at such a crucial time of life, whether that be through small changes or big career pivots.  Employers, government, and careers advice providers need to do more to inspire and support people to actively plan their careers across what might now be 50 or 60 years of working life.  Failing to do so is likely to exacerbate the challenges we face with 3.5 million over 50s currently economically inactive*** and perpetuate the risk of financial insecurity in retirement. We have brought together a host of careers and skills organisations to spark change and inspire adults to take control of their careers.  We want people to know that it’s never too late to make a positive change when it comes to their career and the right support can help make these changes less daunting.”

Call for greater access to careers support

Seven in ten of all adults (70%) say that the government needs to do more to help people build their skills throughout their career.**** However the opportunity to support midlifers in particular is rife, with 41% of this age cohort surveyed by Ipsos agreeing they would be interested in getting information about their options in relation to work. A quarter (25%) would find information about how they can use their skills in different jobs most useful.**

Phoenix Insights, along with a number of expert partners including Amazing If, BraveStarts, Careershifters, Enterprise Nation, Now Teach, Women Returners and the Learning & Work Institute will be launching a campaign ‘Careers can change’ at Postcards from Midlife Live in London on 19th and 20th May. The campaign aims to inspire people, particularly women in midlife, to see how careers can change successfully and the steps they can take to ensure their career is working for them.

To support its own employees, Phoenix Group is taking steps to ensure all colleagues have access to careers advice. For example, the business has partnered with Amazing If to offer colleagues Squiggly Career workshops with practical advice on how to manage their careers, as well as being able to join Phoenix Group’s mentoring scheme. This is in addition to a range of steps the business takes to create a diverse and inclusive environment such as offering ten days paid carers’ leave, creating menopause champions and training, and working with the Centre for Ageing Better and Restless on workplace and recruitment best practice.


Notes to editors:

* (Phoenix Insights 2023) Pathways to Retirement.

**On behalf of Phoenix Insights, Ipsos conducted online interviews with a representative quota sample  of 3,345 adults in the UK aged 16 – 75 years old of which 595 were aged 45 – 54 (referred to as “Midlifers”). Of those aged 45 –54, 462 are employed or self-employed.  Other sub-groups reported on are:  Men aged 45 – 54 in employment  (206) and Women aged 45 – 54 in employment (215) and Men aged 45 – 54 (277) and Women aged 45 – 54 (317). Fieldwork took place between 21st – 24th  April 2023. Data were weighted to the known profile of those in this audience with quotas set by age, gender, social grade, working status and region.

***(ONS, 2023): A05 SA: Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity by age group (seasonally adjusted) – Office for National Statistics (

**** (Phoenix Insights 2022) Never Too Late To Learn. Research undertaken in partnership with Public First

The Careers can change campaign is backed by a collaboration of partners who are all committed to inspiring people to see how careers can change successfully and the steps they can take to ensure their career is working for them.  Convened and facilitated by Phoenix Insights, the partners include organisations who are specialists in providing careers information and advice Amazing If, Brave Starts, Careershifters, Enterprise Nation, Now Teach and Women Returners.  Alongside the Learning & Work Institute and Postcards from Midlife Live who are championing the importance of careers, particularly for women in midlife.


About Phoenix Group

Phoenix Group is the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business with £259 billion of assets under administration.

As life expectancy continues to increase and the pension landscape continues to shift, we offer our 12 million customers a broad range of pensions, savings and life insurance products across our consumer brands which include Standard Life, SunLife, Phoenix Life and ReAssure. Our vision is to help even more people on their journey to and through retirement, providing the right support at the right time.

We are a growing and sustainable business united by a common purpose – helping people secure a life of possibilities. This drives everything we do and means taking responsible and sustainable investment decisions, and using our presence and voice to drive forward change for the better, for our customers, our colleagues, and our wider community.

A FTSE 100 company, we also feature in the FTSE100 ESG Select Index series and we are playing an active role in helping to invest in a sustainable future.  As part of this, we have committed to our operations being net zero carbon by 2025 and for our investment portfolios we have set an interim target of a 50% reduction in the carbon emission intensity of c£250bn by 2030, as we progress towards our portfolios being net zero carbon by 2050 or sooner.

We have been recognised as a leading employer for many years. We are accredited as a Living Wage Employer, Living Pension Employer and as a Carer Positive Exemplary Employer for offering the best support to colleagues who are carers.

Linkedin:  PhoenixGroup-UK    Twitter: @PhoenixGroupUK

About Phoenix Insights

People are living for longer. But longer lives are not yet always better lives. We want to change this.

Phoenix Insights is a new think tank set up by Phoenix Group to transform the way society responds to the possibilities of longer lives.

We use research to lead fresh debate and inspire the action needed to make better longer lives a reality for all of us. The core of our work is focused on financial security, work, and learning and skills. Reimagining longer lives means making changes in all these areas. At the heart of all our work, we are committed to reducing inequalities and building a society that enables all of us, not just the fortunate few, to live better longer lives.

Phoenix Insights is led by Catherine Foot, a leading research and policy specialist in longevity and ageing who was appointed as the Director of Phoenix Insights in June 2021.

Catherine has over 20 years of experience in the field. From 2015 to 2021, she was Director of Evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better. She has also held senior roles with The King’s Fund and Cancer Research UK. Catherine holds degrees from University of Cambridge and University College London.

The think tank is supported by an expert advisory committee including Baroness Camilla Cavendish, Rt Hon Amber Rudd, Lord Victor Adebowale, Professor Lynda Gratton, Professor Sarah Harper CBE and Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE.