What are they?
Not a euphemism for being fired or retiring. A genuine career break offers time out of the rat race, a chance to travel, try something new, write a book, learn a language - anything, really. Just don't stick to the day job. A change is as good as a rest, they say. Career breaks allow you to test the truth of all that.
Where did they come from?
There never used to be a career break option. You worked until you dropped. Only in the 20th century, with the rise of welfarism and stronger trade unions did the concept of workers' rights take hold. After the world wars, shattered soldiers were granted time to recover their health. (Roffey Park was founded in 1943 as a centre for recuperation.) As the century wore on, the realisation grew that work could be exhausting or stultifying and that a break from it might be necessary. Flexible working, better maternity, paternity and carer leave, and a more enlightened approach all followed.
Where are they going?
Becoming more and more popular - for those who can afford them, if they fit into their lifestyle or plans. The job market at home is not exactly buoyant, so if you have always dreamed of doing something different, the career break is appealing. And, where once recruiters might have been suspicious about candidates with interrupted CVs and fragmented career paths, today showing the independence of mind to press the pause button and do something else could be more of a plus. It may not have worked for Ross and Rachel in Friends, but today you can declare proudly: 'I was on a break!'
Gradient: A steepish seven, clearly.