What Is an Encore Career?

An encore career is term describing a second vocation beginning in the latter half of one's life, popularized by author and social entrepreneur Marc Freedman. An encore career is typically one that is pursued as much for its public or social purpose and a sense of fulfillment as it is for a paycheck.

While encore careers can be found in any sector, they tend to be clustered in five areas – healthcare, the environment, education, government and the nonprofit sector. Freedman describes the encore career concept in his book Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life.

Key Takeaways

  • An encore career refers to beginning a new vocation in later age, typically after regular retirement from a prior career.
  • Encore careers are typically motivated by social impact and a sense of personal fulfillment rather than economic factors.
  • These second career paths are often concentrated in healthcare, environmental justice, education, and public service.

Understanding Encore Careers

Encore careers, as Freedman argues, are a phenomenon that has grown more common both for economic and social reasons. The traditional retirement age of 65 came out of a nineteenth-century manufacturing economy, when workers couldn't physically stand to work longer, and when the average lifespan was not much older. But today, most Americans work in the service sector, where the physical strain of work is far reduced, and are often living decades after the age of 65.

Americans are living longer, making early retirement much more expensive. Workers adopt an encore career because there is more work they are able to do, and in many cases, because they need to in order to support themselves. Further compounding the economic need for encore career is the fact that social security benefits have not kept pace with the cost of living borne by many seniors. Even so, the large size of the baby boomer cohort aging into the Social Security program means it is growing in cost even as it’s becoming less generous. Therefore, encore careers are a necessary force for maintaining the relative size of the working population to the retired population.

Encore Careers in the Second Half of Life

It is older workers who embark on encore careers, and because of this fact, these encore careers tend to be qualitatively different than a person’s first career. Many workers who have made a lot of money or achieved great status in their first career might strive to fulfill other values with their encore careers, like helping others or advancing a specific political cause. Freedman argues that encore careers can be broadly beneficial to society because older people naturally yearn to be of use to others as they age. By harnessing this natural tendency, society can both overcome the perceived problems of an aging workforce to the economy, while also solving social problems needing the hard work and experience older workers can provide.