Survey: 'Most Important' Career Goals Change with Age

Most important factors

A new poll suggests “salary” remains the most important consideration for many career professionals but, following that, factors change considerably according to age.

The survey—conducted in 2014 on behalf of Rasmussen College—asked more than 2,000 workers from all age groups and geographic regions to rank the top five factors they consider “most important” in their careers. It grouped respondents into four categories according to age. Ranges included 18-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-plus.

“Ability to do what you love” ranked second among millennials (defined here as 18-34-year-olds) and those 55 and older. Whether it’s the increased idealism and fewer responsibilities of youth or the measured nostalgia of folks approaching retirement, experts appear to agree with the findings.

A 2014 Pew Research study found millennials tend to be optimistic about their futures, despite a collective distrust of people and burdensome student loan debt. Baby-boomers, on the other hand, tend to look for “more meaningful” work after retiring from years of service in traditional corporate jobs.

Respondents 35-44 years old ranked family-friendly factors as the most important considerations in their careers. This group is more likely to have pre-teens and teenagers in the home so it’s not surprising they ranked “work-life balance” and “flexible working hours” second and fifth, respectively.

Respondents who had already reached their peak earning years (45-54 years old) understandably ranked “job security” ahead of doing what they love, work-life balance and location. The ranking is consistent with a U.S. Census Bureau study that illustrates net worth across age groups. The 2011 data from that study shows aggregate net worth among 45-54-year-olds far outpaces any other age group.

In fact, this group recorded the smallest percentage of wealth in interest-earning accounts but the largest percentage in retirement accounts. This distribution of wealth highlights the importance of financial planning among those preparing for retirement.

The takeaway

These survey results show that salary is king when it comes to what professionals consider “most important” in their careers. But a look at the factors they ranked #2 thru #5 offer keen insight into how age affects their outlook on other life decisions.    

No matter where you are in your career, it’s likely you can relate to these survey findings. If you’re just starting out and still unsure where to start your job search, check out Rasmussen College’s Career Roadmap to find the career that makes the most sense to you.


*Survey Methodology: From February 25 to March 2, 2014 an online survey was conducted among 2,003 randomly selected U.S. adults who are currently employed and are also Vision Critical American Community panel members. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.2%. Quotas were put in place to ensure a sample representative of the entire working US adult population in terms of age, gender and region. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

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Jeff is the Content Marketing Editor at Collegis Education. He oversees all of the blog and newsletter content for Rasmussen College. As a writer, he creates articles that educate, encourage and motivate current and future students.

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