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Is it possible to not write a Halloween themed blog post today?

Apparently not!  Though I nearly opted for a summary of this story in Australia about the arguments claiming that older workers are effectively ‘retiring’ on unemployment benefits - certainly a controversial claim.

So how does the discussion of age feature in new stories across the (should that be spider’s) Web.  Please note some of these links feature language and descriptions that some readers might find offensive (please note our disclaimer on the front page of this blog regarding links provided).

Interestingly some charities concerned with older people’s welfare highlight that Halloween can be a really scary time, particularly if older residents are the target of persistent trick or treaters.  Rather depressingly, ‘WikiHow’ offers advice on ‘how to look like an elderly person for halloween’. while this cartoon suggests that the older generation are just out to spoil everyone’s fun (though other age groups come in for a similarly irreverent stereotyping).  Interestingly this student news article summarizes concerns about the pressure for younger people (particularly women ) to dress and behave a certain way during Halloween celebrations.  It suggests that some students might  hanker after a more ‘innocent age’ of trick or treating associated with childhood, perhaps as represented by this list of Halloween jokes from the under 8’s.  Indeed searching for ‘age limit on Halloween’ I found lots of debates on various forum about whether teenagers should be allowed to go trick or treating – with some US states having discussed introducing legislation to this effect.  More controversially this piece in the Daily Mirror few years ago suggested an age limit of 5!

So in a household with an age range of 50 -17 will we be celebrating Halloween – I’m afraid that’s a resounding no!  Its also a resounding no to future holiday themed blog posts!

What does the CIPD’s latest outlook survey have to say about age?

The CIPD have produced their latest ‘Outlook Survey’ which summarizes “key findings” about the state of employment in the UK (based on a survey of 2634 UK employees).  The sample is apparently weighted to be representative across UK sectors, industry, contract type and gender.  Although results are reported by age category there is no information on the sample age breakdown.  The survey covers a number of key areas though the definition of constructs deployed is not clearly explained (so there is no explanation, for example, of what they mean by a statement that a particular percentage of employees are engaged).

With those particular caveats out of the way, here are the highlights reported in respect to age:

  • a ‘considerable rise’ in the job satisfaction of older workers (defined as over 55), with the lowest scores for job satisfaction reported in the 18-24 year age category
  • “There is little difference in the levels of satisfaction with the line manager across organisations of different sizes, and between younger and older employees”. Roughly two thirds of respondents are ‘satisfied’ with their line manager
  • “Older employees (55+[ figure is 58%]) and those aged 25–34 [53%] are the most likely to be satisfied or very satisfied with their career. On the other hand, only 46% of those in the 18–24-year-old group and 43% of those in the 45–54-year-old group are satisfied or very satisfied with their career to date”.  The report provides a narrative account of the different factors in a career valued by different age groups but there were no summary figures that gave the results for all factors for all ages.

These are somewhat informative but the figures on career, which show an interesting fluctuation across age groups, seem to warrant more unpacking.  Interestingly the report showed an absolutely identical rating of career for men and women (p17) which struck me as so odd I wondered if it might be a typo!

At the end of the day, this is a summary ‘outlook’ survey and it will be interesting to see if the CIPD follow up with any more detailed analysis of the age related factors reported here.


Women in the media, age and over or under exposure

There was much discussion in recent weeks about the various ‘leaks’ of images of female celebrities, particularly the issue that these were ‘private’ images (see for example this discussion on the BBC).  I didn’t follow the story that closely but even a quick glance suggests that these were by and large images of young women.

In comparison to these stories about ‘overexposure’ of younger women comes this blog in the Guardian asking “where are all the older women”, though here with a concern for news and current affairs exposure rather than the other, unwanted kind.  Here Jane Martinson notes that “in the last few weeks it has emerged that 70-year-old John Simpson’s contract with the BBC had been extended indefinitely, while 75-year-old David Dimbleby is to anchor the corporation’s election coverage. They are fine broadcasters both but where are all the female septuagenarian reporters and anchors?”

This is not unfortunately a question to which she has the answer.  And valid though it is to ask specific questions about women in the media (itself the subject of a house of lords committee as explained in the article), surely this issue applies more broadly?  Indeed Jane concludes by suggestions that media should “reflect the society in which we live”.  Perhaps the issue is that media IS reflecting one aspect of that society, the workplace.  It has been long suggested that women encounter a ‘double jeopardy’ associated with age and gender, and while this may be particularly visible in the media world, it is happening in workplaces of all shapes and sizes across the country.

Oldies are killing the world economy, but don’t worry Dame Helen will save the day!

In a cheery Monday morning headline, the Telegraph proclaims that ‘Oldies are killing the world economy‘ but before we can draw breath to protest also suggests ‘they’ could also come to the rescue.  In fact the article provides a rather useful run through of global demographic trends, accompanied by the now-ubiquitous ‘info-graphic’ summary of key trends.  There are of course some rather broad brush generalizations here: “not only are the over-65s living a lot longer than previous generations, but they are more active and, as a cohort, have an awful lot more money. The challenge for business and, indeed, economic policy is getting the blighters to spend it.”  The term here to use is apparently “Japanification” which describes the tendency of older people to ‘hoard’ rather than ‘spend’.  Here the article highlights a challenge for those in marketing who have traditionally targeted younger consumers since they are apparently easier to sway than more brand-loyal older spenders (or should that be savers).

Enter, Dame Helen Mirren.

According to the Daily Mail, the much heralded pin up of the older women, is the new face of L’Oreal presumably to tackle exactly this problem and convince us that we are all really ‘worth it’.   I have to say I am sure that my mum’s long-standing ‘need’ for a weekly blow-dry appointment – something I would never consider myself – probably does more for the local economy than her switching shampoo brands.

Sadly the Daily Mail go onto describe how to get Helen’s ‘ageless’ look – a term I am not sure I would endorse and suspect she may also question.  They also suggest that “Helen is the perfect poster girl for a new breed of older women, showing it is possible to maintain looks, vitality and energy levels whatever your age”.

Is there a “new breed of older women” – that sounds a bit too much like genetic engineering to me.  While (especially as I approach a reasonably significant birthday myself) it is great to see more images of older women, I am concerned that these notions of ‘ageless’ perfection will put more pressure on us to age in a certain, acceptable (energetic and vital) way.  (And I from what I have read elsewhere Dame Helen it seems might share this concern.)  But of course we will undoubtedly spend more to achieve it – thus world economic crisis solved.


The ‘Missing Million': Campaign launch for the older involuntary jobless

Yesterday saw the launch of a campaign by three organizations to tackle the issue of unemployment among the over 50s. Those involved are the International Longevity Centre, The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME) and Business In The Community. The start of this was marked by the release of the first of three reports that look at the economic barriers faced by the over 50s in finding work.

The first report (available here) focuses on what they call – interestingly – the ‘missing million’. Based on what these organizations say is a conservative estimate, this refers to the almost 1 million people aged 50-64 who have been forced out of their jobs through factors outside of their control. These are the ‘involuntarily jobless’ who have lost work through a combination of redundancy, ill health or early retirement. I say ‘interesting’ because my research collaborator and co-blogger Katrina and I presented a conference paper this summer with the same title. The difference was, we used the term ‘missing million’ in the context of a particular construction that appeared in our dataset relating to youth unemployment in the UK in November 2011. Perhaps others have noticed the campaigning efficacy of an alliterative label to apply to a jobless group!

And talking of youth unemployment, the press release of the PRIME website (available here) makes specific mention of research showing that if people aged over 50 are helped back into employment, it does not mean that younger people are ‘crowded out ‘of the labour market. So, a welcome change from campaigns that try to pitch one unemployed age group against another.

Youth unemployment in Scotland falls to six-year low – but through what kind of jobs?

As reported here in the Daily Record, data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that youth unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 5.6 percentage points in the last year. We have previously blogged about Scotland’s particular focus on youth employment, with a minister with specific responsibility in this area, to the extent of a distinct political commentary about the difference in policies in comparison with the rest of the UK.

The ONS data shows that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are unemployed dropped by 29,000 to 72,000 (for the period June to August 2014) which is the lowest level recorded since 2008.

So whilst this is good news, do we have any information about the kind of jobs or other measures that have contributed to this reduction? It seems pertinent to ask given the other stories we’ve covered this week on low pay and marginal work.

In The Courier, Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra raised the same point: “It is important that we look beyond the headline figures and ensure that we have a job market that creates stable, well paid and full time jobs for our young workforce. The Scottish Government must ensure that the jobs being created pay the living wage and are not insecure, part time, or zero-hour contracts”. Now, there’s undoubtedly a party political message going on in her statement but it would be interesting to dig a bit deeper to see what’s happening.

Stuck on low pay? More chance if a woman, older or working part-time

According to a report commissioned by CIPD and the John Lewis Partnership, those mostly likely to be stuck in low pay jobs are women, those who are older and those working part time. As outlined here, the report identifies the key factors that determine the likelihood of this outcome.

The low pay trend is something we have seen mentioned in many contexts, most recently yesterday’s Call You and Yours programme which we blogged about. The radio show received accounts of younger workers in their 20s and 30s, some graduates, still only being employed on minimum wage jobs.

This latest report, which was written by Tooley Street Research, defines low pay as those paid at, or up to 20% above, the minimum wage. It points to evidence of a huge increase in the number of people on low pay between the 1990s and 2010s.

In terms of age, they find a strong correlation between age and the chances of being stuck in low pay. Apparently the likelihood of escaping low pay becoming less likely the older you become. A typical person aged 35 is 24 percentage points more likely to escape low pay than a similar person who is 45.

Are you worse off than your parents’ generation?

Are you worse off than your parents’ generation? This was the question posed by the BBC Radio 4 programme, Call You and Yours, today.

The starting point for the discussion seemed to be that today’s younger people are worse off than their parents and that this will be a long term lifetime condition. The invitation to participate seemed to be addressed to younger people and only to older people in their capacity as parents – i.e. did they think that their children were worse off than them (as opposed to their own reflections on their position relative to their parents). The question was refined further during the course of the programme to refer expressly to the ‘younger generation’ and to ‘today’s 30 somethings’. Interestingly, one person in his 60s sent a message to the programme to say that his mother in her 90s had always been better off than him!

In addition to callers from the general public, there were invited contributors from two speakers. One was Alan Milburn,the government’s social mobility tsar. He called for a ten year transition to the introduction of a living wage for all, accepting that there are employers who cannot afford to pay this at the moment. He also referenced the rise of the working poor.

The other was Matt Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation who raised the issue of the disappearance of mid range skilled jobs leading to a growing gulf between those in low and high paid jobs. He pointed out that every generation has its own challenges and asked whether a younger generation has had to swap gadgets and travel in place of buying houses and saving for pensions and other things traditionally associated with security.

Most callers expressed the view that younger people are worse off than their parents though a few took the opposite position.

Amongst those who thought the younger generation were worse off, the main themes seemed to be:

  • low pay jobs which disadvantage young adults
  • a housing crisis (through some very large earners and buy to let putting up prices) lack of affordable housing
  • Global competition for jobs and housing
  • lack of choice of jobs outside London
  • low interest rates making it difficult to save for a deposit
  • the trend towards working for free at the start of career
  • Blase attitude of employers who view young people as a disposable commodity
  • Having to pay for higher education
  • The end of the job for life.

Whilst there were stories of help being given between generations of family such as with deposits, moral support and provision of living accommodation there was a sense that generations living together was different and difficult.

The programme asked whether things were different rather than worse. Such differences might be the trend towards having children later, the idea that we deserve ‘fulfilling’ work, the notion of ‘climbing the property ladder’ rather than staying put in a family home.

One call from someone who self-identified as a baby boomer who took a minority view that her children were far better off than her. She said she had never had the chance to save with very limited disposable income. Instead she had given her life to raising her children and now has to wait longer to receive her pension. This caller challenged the idea of generational homogeneity, rejecting the underlying assumption that all people in her generation had it easy. Of course, we agree that this is such a weakness in the notion of generations, that used in this way they can flatten all other potential dimensions of difference such as class and gender.

Freezing female employees eggs: What does this say about age norms in Silicon Valley?

We couldn’t not cover this story which has received considerable press coverage and extensive online reader comments.

Last week it was reported (for example, as here in The Telegraph) that Apple and Facebook, two of the American tech giants, will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as another ‘work perk’. The rationale is said to be that women can then continue to work through their twenties and thirties without stopping for a few months to have a child and so inevitably fall behind their male counterparts.

Now, we have blogged several times before on the gendered and age norms of Silicon Valley companies whose staff profiles suggest that men are favoured over women (as mentioned here in The Independent) and youth over older age (as here in The New Statesman). This announcement however has caused many commentators to unpack some of the implicit assumptions behind such a move. These include:

  • that women need to be treated differently from men;
  • that delaying children is professional beneficial for women (but not men) because young adulthood is only time which counts in getting ahead in an IT/tech career;
  • that it marks a rather sinister interest in women’s bodies by their employers; and
  • that the decision to have children can be put off  until female employees are too old to be of any use (at which point their gender is irrelevant).

One reader comment here in The Guardian put the alternative: Why not ‘let women have children when they want them – without it harming their careers? If they really cared that much, they’d make their companies sufficiently flexible to welcome back talented women… and not make them feel pressured to devote everything to their careers and freeze their eggs’. And why not make it so that jobs and career advancement are not only linked to performance in young adulthood?

Generational stereotypes …. again!

Earlier this week an Australian TV show was under fire for asking “name something people think is a woman’s job”, and reported here in the Sydney Morning Herald, widely criticized for counting as correct answers that included cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, nursing, doing the dishes, hairdressing and domestic duties.

Yet stereotypes about generational categories continue unabated and often with very little reaction.  Here for example is an article about ‘differences’ in work-life balance in the Huffington Post.  This includes broad statements such as “international travel is also important to Millennials” and “Millennials are also happiest in the workplace when they feel they are part of a team”.

Now obviously there is a difference in the tone of this article and the aforementioned quiz but the generalization and stereotyping going on here might not be that different.  Not least because of what these statements infer about either other generational groups OR about the limitations of the particular group under consideration.

Here is another example, from “Chief Learning Officer” Magazine: “Millennials have unique characteristics — just as every generation does. They were the first generation born with technology; it is like breathing air to them. As a result, they are able to easily adapt to and apply new technologies”.

As regular readers will know, we at Age at Work would contest the simplistic representation of ‘unique characteristics’ which here are presented as overriding other factors such as individual personality.  The generalization of this group as ‘naturally’ technologically skilled not only underplays the education process but also effectively rules out this ‘talent’ as being possessed by other groups.

Both the theoretical basis of generations (especially the means by which key events are believed to produce key psychological differences in group members) AND the empirical evidence of such differences is hotly debated.  Yet time and time again we see the promotion of generations as a means of understanding differences at work, often conflated with chronological or other definitions of age.

As Deal and colleagues concluded in 2010 findings regarding millennials are ‘confusing at best and contradictory at worst’ (2010, p. 191)

(Deal, J.J., Altman, D.G., & Rogelberg, S.G. (2010). Millennials at Work: What We Know and What We Need to Do (If Anything). Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 191-199.)


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