Is Job-Hopping in Your Genes?

People are switching jobs more than ever before. An analysis published by LinkedIn this week found that job-hopping has almost doubled in the last two decades.

Chalk it up to a changing economy, or maybe just another problem with millennials.

But a new study suggests that job hopping might also have a genetic component. To look at whether job hopping is partly in the genes, the researchers homed in on a particular gene having to do with dopamine functioning that’s previously been shown to influence novelty-seeking behavior.

When they went through people’s work histories, they found both environmental and genetic influences on job-change frequency. The most important environmental factor they found was education level: people with more education have more voluntary job changes, but people with less education have more involuntary job changes.

Taking into account genetics, the study found that this pattern was exaggerated in people with a specific variant of the dopamine receptor gene looked at in the study, the 7-repeat variant. In other words, the people with the most voluntary job switches were those who were most educated and had the most copies of the 7-repeat variant.

This means job-hopping likely results from an interplay of genetic and environmental factors. It also suggests that having certain genes can in turn make you more or less sensitive to environmental factors that lead to job hopping.

Other research has found other influences on how frequently people change jobs. For example, it turns out that younger siblings switch jobs more early in their careers than older siblings. There may be a practical reason for this: older siblings actually start off their careers with higher-paying jobs than younger siblings, but younger siblings are able to close the gap with frequent job changes over the first decade of their careers.

However, none of this answers the important question: should you switch jobs?

Well, the responsible answer is: it all depends on your situation, so don’t quit your job because I told you to!

But that’s no fun. So science has a less responsible answer: yes.

Another paper published this month tracked what happened to people changing jobs voluntarily in Germany between 1985 and 2013. It found that over that span of time, the income gains associated with job switches decreased – so ironically, job-hopping is growing in popularity as the financial incentive to job-hop is actually disappearing.

In terms of job satisfaction, however, the benefits of changing jobs have remained stable over time. That is, people who switch jobs tend to end up with higher job satisfaction.

The takeaway is that a few years from now, when your interviewer is asking you why you haven’t held down a job for more than a year, you have two pretty compelling responses you can choose from: either “because of my dopamine receptor genes” or “because Neil Petersen said switching jobs would make me happy.”

Image: Collier


  1. Lack of Satisfaction on April 16, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Interesting. I’m not a millennial (Gen X-er) and voluntarily switch jobs an average of every three years. Walked out on two due to extreme environments I simply wasn’t willing to accept anymore from an insane boss to coworkers’ breaking the law. That being said, I’ll have to dig further into this study. I’ve been troubled with the fact I’ve changed jobs so frequently while cohorts have been in their positions for decades. It is nearly a year with a current position and began looking almost as soon as I started. Again, makes me wonder why I can’t find any satisfaction. I’m the eldest child, by the way, youngest sibling celebrated their 17th year on the job.

    • Neil Petersen on April 17, 2016 at 7:48 am

      I think some people have bad luck and some people just have a lower threshold of being able to stay in the same place year after year. The way I look at at, better to switch jobs a lot than to stick with a job that isn’t working for you!

  2. Sheri McClure on April 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    One year when I was but a youngster, I completed my taxes and mailed in all thirteen of my W -2’s. Now, where you may say I’m fickle and immature having so many jobs but I was never without one at least

    • Neil Petersen on April 17, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Some inspiration for those of us with work still to do ahead of the upcoming tax deadline. 🙂

  3. Jessica on April 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Lol the last line was hilarious. But seriously, this was a really interesting article because it describes my employment behavior. I have a graduate degree and I like to change jobs about once every 16 months or so. I always viewed it as a negative but after reading this article, I’m not so sure that’s the case. Thankis!

    • Neil Petersen on April 19, 2016 at 6:31 am

      More and more I realize that people are just different. Some people are at their best finding a good work environment, then staying there as long as possible. Other people thrive on the novelty of starting a new job every year. I think the important thing is to figure out what works best for you and then just do it.

  4. Jessica on April 18, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Also, I’m not a millennial. I’m 39 🙂

    • Neil Petersen on April 19, 2016 at 6:31 am

      You can be an honorary millennial for switching jobs every 16 months. 😉

  5. Brian on April 18, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    The economy, the field of work, outsourcing jobs, and corporate greed would be realistic factors over persons DNA. Also, a person’s age, their health and family responsibilities would be very high factors as to the number of W2’s. I myself (at age 46) have had over 30 jobs and 3 businesses since being in the workforce 31 years. 27 of those jobs were after 9/11/11 and between 2005. With one business being sold for profit and one other becoming bankrupt due to the economy crash of 2008.

    • Neil Petersen on April 19, 2016 at 6:33 am

      Yes, no doubt there are a lot of economic factors too. That’s partly why the researchers in the first study separated between voluntary and involuntary job changes. All else being equal, some people are more genetically prone to job-hopping than others — but of course all else isn’t always equal!