As many as 31 million people between the ages of 44 to 70 want “encore careers” that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact, according to new research.

The MetLife Foundation, New York, and Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose, published this finding in a report, Bridging the Gap: Making it Easier to Finance Encore Transitions. The study is the last installment in a three-part research effort funded by MetLife Foundation and conducted by Penn Schoen Berland.

The research was conducted from June to October 2011 by Penn Schoen Berland and included a nationally representative telephone survey of 930 Americans ages 44 to 70, an online survey of 1,408 Americans ages 44 to 70 in or expressing interest in encore careers, and an online survey of 400 potential entrepreneurs of the same age group.

The report discloses that of the 9 million people who are already in encore careers, two in three experienced reduced or no income during the transition to their encores. On average, these individuals started to think about their encores at age 50 and took about 18 months to make the transition.

“There’s a big payoff from encore careers, for individuals and for our entire society,” says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. “But making the switch is hard. Employers, policymakers and all of us in our own lives need to think creatively about how to make the investments in encore transitions that lead to these new, more fulfilling careers.”

Among the report’s additional findings:

Many of those currently in their encores took specific steps to prepare: Nearly one in four (23%) participated in local volunteer programs; 20% enrolled in education or training courses; and 13% volunteered at their local places of worship.

Some of those interested in encore careers are not ready to make the transition: Four in 10 (40%) do not feel secure enough financially to make a career change in this economy; nearly three in 10 (29%) do not know which type of job or career to pursue; and 16% do not have the time to explore a new career.

Those interested in encore careers identified a need for transitional support through grants and scholarships for training and education (44%), volunteer programs (40%), hands-on experience through community service programs (36%), and additional education through community colleges or other schools (34%)

More than two in three (67%) of those already in encore careers experienced gaps in their personal income during the transition to their encores, reporting that they earned no money (24%) or that they earned significantly less during the transition than they earned at their previous jobs (43%).

Of those who experienced time with little to no income, nearly four in five (79%) say they experienced a gap of six months or more; more than one in three (36%) say their income gap lasted more than two years. Most of those who answered (65%) said they relied on personal savings alone to make ends meet.