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Jobs and physical fitness: Where working longer is seen as a problem

I wrote yesterday about the latest figures for those over 65 working in the UK and wondered about factors that would affect the rate of working. As well as more general economic factors, it may also be the case that in some sectors or lines of work the nature of the job is not seen as conducive to being carried out by those over 65 (or not routinely, as I am sure there will always be those who are exceptions to this and any rule).

This was highlighted earlier this week on the BBC website. The article reported that representatives of 1,250 armed police officers who protect UK civil nuclear sites have challenged a rule forcing them to work beyond the age of 60. It seems that under the new laws affecting public service workers – due to take effect in April 2017 – these officers will have to work until they are 65, and eventually 68, to receive their pension. The argument put forward by the Civil Nuclear Police Federation (CNPF) is that it will be “physically impossible” for officers in their mid-60s to protect the public from terrorism.

Their Chief Executive Nigel Dennis is quoted by the BBC as saying “Neither can I believe that the public will feel protected if eventually we have aggressively armed police officers in their mid-60s being deployed against terrorists.

This is a similar line of argument to one that we reported in respect of firefighters: In that case, the ad posed the question: ‘If you called 999 would you expect a 60 year old to come running?‘ Interesting to see that in the case of the CNPF, there is the added contextual reference to terrorism. As then, I’d suggest a lot depends on the individuals concerned and their levels of fitness and physical ability, but perhaps the idea of individual fitness assessment is not welcome in these occupations. I don’t underestimate the commitment and effort involved in staying in peak physical condition nor the potential for injury in physically demanding roles.

I’m also, however, reminded of the case of Kevin Fulthorpe who was told that he couldn’t continue in post as a physical training instructor with the Army on reaching his 61st birthday, despite meeting the fitness criteria for an Army physical training instructor 30 years his junior.  This prompted us to ask – where is the reward for staying fit? Happily in his case he found alternative training work with the Royal Air Force.

All of this suggests that these are not easy decisions and how difficult it is to find a ‘one size fits all’ that is a fair solution for all concerned.

The over 65s in work: the latest statistics

Lots of articles over the last few weeks relating to employment amongst those aged over 65 (here’s the CIPD take on this). It’s an interesting area given the relatively recent abolition of mandatory retirement (DRA) in the UK that used to kick in at that age (for men, at least – the age for women has been changing upwards and for different cohorts at different times).

The Department for Work & Pensions issued figures from the ONS that showed that in 2015, there were over 1.1 million individuals aged 65+ employed, an employment rate of 10.2% which is apparently more than double the rate in 2001 (4.9%). This was reported under the headline “We’re not quitting yethere in the Daily Mail which attributed this to growing life expectancy, shrinking pension pots and evidence of something they call ‘British flexibility’ given that employers mostly can’t now insist on employees retiring at a particular age.

Our friends over at Lewis Silkin did some research on the impact of the abolition of the DRA a couple of years ago (here) and predicted that if the trend then idenfied continued, we could expect 1.2m over 65s in employment by July 2015, and 1.3m by August 2016. So the actual figures for 2015 are slightly lower, suggesting the trend has how slowed somewhat. This could be for many reasons of course, including wider economic conditions affecting the labour market.

Also of note are the statistics which show that 69% of those aged 50-64 were in work. Whilst this is apparently the highest on record, suggesting that early retirement is on the decline, what about the rest of those in this age group? One of the commenters (Wendy) on the CIPD site says: “I think that it is concerning that nearly a third of people aged 50 – 64 are not in employment of any kind. Many are not due their state pensions for a good number of years and are keen to find work. Often they not even appear on the radar (government statistics) as job-seekers because they do not qualify for allowances. What (if anything) is being done to encourage their recruitment into the workforce?”

More detailed analysis here on the Professional Adviser website including breakdown by gender, as well as some opinions from those working in the pensions industry (who rarely miss an opportunity to comment on this topic!).

Age and the Olympics – part 3: Remarkable performances at any age

Well the Olympics are over (happily we still have the Paralympics to look forward to) so I thought we’d look back at a couple more age at work related stories from Rio 2016.

We’ve covered some already (here and here, if you missed them) but luckily the Team GB success continued so we can report on yet more events.

After Katrina’s last post on this subject, Nick Skelton, who she had mentioned, went on to win gold in the individual showjumping. At 58 years old this made him Britain’s second oldest ever Olympic gold medallist.  According to Horse & Hound (I have always wanted to be able to type those words on this blog), the only person to win gold at an older age for Great Britain was Joshua Millner, who was 61 when he took shooting gold in 1908.

Nick may apparently be in contention for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.  I’m not sure it’s completely true that ‘the middle-aged suddenly found an extra spring in their step as they cherished the performance of Rio’s golden oldie‘ (this was according to The Telegraph) but what is remarkable is that this was his 7th Olympic Games, a testament to the incredible longevity of a sporting career at an elite level. As The Guardian pointed out, this is a singular record even taking into account the long careers in equestrian sport – particularly when you factor in that he broke his neck in 2000, forcing his retirement but fully recovered and returned to competition two years later.

At the other end of the age spectrum was a bronze medal in gymnastics for Team GB’s Amy Tinkler, our youngest athlete. As the the Daily Mail pointed out, she was in fact aged 16 years and 293 days and it was just weeks after taking her GCSEs. She still has the results of those exams to look forward to. I wonder if that becomes a less nerve-wracking event after competing sucessfully on the Olympic stage.

Looking across the whole Olympics (not just Team GB), the BBC profiles athletes from a range of countries and disciplines still at the top of their game. As the article says, the ‘lifespan for many sporting stars can be cruelly short – in few professional fields do people hitting 30 get described as “veteran”.’ Indeed.

Roll on the Paralympics.

We review new Paper by Lyons and Schweitzer

We are always pleased to hear of new publications that share a similar outlook on the issues of generational identity, especially when one of the authors is previous guest blog author, Sean Lyons!

Lyons, Sean T., and Linda Schweitzer. “A Qualitative Exploration of Generational Identity: Making Sense of Young and Old in the Context of Today’s Workplace.Work, Aging and Retirement (2016): Online first


Much of the extant research concerning generations in the workplace relies on objective definitions of generational groups based on birth years. This research has produced highly mixed and contradictory results, raising significant questions about the legitimacy of generations as a workplace phenomenon. In this qualitative study, we sought a more nuanced and subjective conceptualization of generation as a basis for social and individual identity in organizations.Through in-depth interviews with 105 Canadians, we examined the degree to which people use generation as a basis for social identity, why people identify with generational groups (or not), and whether there are age-related patterns in generational identification. The results suggest that people do make use of generation as a social category; but some do not identify with any generational group and others are unsure of their identification. Furthermore, generational labels such as “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X,” and “Millennials” are not universally connected to people’s sense of generational identity, with younger participants being less likely to identify with a label. Rather, generation is used as a conceptual frame to make sense of “young” and “old” within a given historical context. We recommend discarding the presumption of homogeneity within age cohorts and allowing for a diversity of orientations toward
generational prototypes. This suggests that age cohort alone is insufficient as a means of operationalizing generations for the purposes of research.

It won’t surprise regular readers that we agree with much of what is written here, as many of these issues are those we have explored in our own research and publications.  I might be wrong but I think this might be one of the first interview studies I have seen that sets out to unpack how individuals make sense of generational identities at work.  Here they sought to answer three research questions: (a) do people identify with generational groups? (b) do people identify with the generational group that is commonly
ascribed to their year of birth? and (c) why do people identify with a
generational group or not?

Using thematic analysis, they present an interesting review of findings in respect to these questions.  However I was less sure in the conclusion of the proposed disconnect between ‘media rhetoric’ and the talk used by their participants in the interviews.  Rather I would see the consumption of ‘media rhetoric’ as readily available to these (and all) individuals, rather than necessarily separating their accounts as representing something more ‘real’ and ‘psychological’.  I think this point is actually made as the discussion continues so it may just be my reading and a question of semantics!  I think in the end we agree that the media rhetoric has to be taken seriously and is impacting understandings and experiences in the workplace.

The paper usefully debates the fluidity and actualization of generational identity at work – and therefore provides a useful foil to the media coverage which suggests generational tension and differences are a fixed, inevitable problem (though of course it rather spoils the consultant’s party to suggest otherwise).  There is also useful discussion of the broader distinctions made between ‘older’ and ‘younger’, rather than the much more specific (and overused) labels such as millennial and baby boomer.

The paper offers a very useful and accessible discussion of generations and empirical consideration of key issues in the workplace.  It reinforces others (including our own) calls to unpack and problematise notions of generations rather than making blind assumptions about what these are and the differences between them.



Phew! Even watching the catch-up for the Olympics is tiring.

Returning to Rebecca’s theme from last week on age and the Olympics, here’s some more age related news from Rio.  The BBC have helpfully produced a summary of the great performances from older athletes and here’s some further news of note:

Of particular concern for us tennis fans is Andy Murray’s comment at the end of his epic Gold Medal victory this morning was that he might be too old for 2020.  Hope he reads these stories and changes his mind – he was rather shattered at the time of the interview!

And of course, its not just age at the older end that has been making news.  Remembering that different sports have different age regulations, we have already mentioned that at 13 years old swimmer Gaurika Singh of Nepal is the youngest competitor.  Also in the pool, Penny Oleksiak, Canada, at 16 became the games youngest medalist (so far).  I am assuming that birthdays separate her and the American Ginny Trasher who had that headline earlier in the games.


Retirement: Different context and meaning – Japan and hip hop

Two stories about retirement caught my eye this week, not least because of their very different contexts and the different meanings of the term.

First, as reported here in The Guardian, Emperor Akihito of Japan (aged 82) has hinted that he wants to step down. And second, the hip hop artist Bow Wow (aged 29) also reported in The Guardian has announced that he is retiring from music, on the basis that he doesn’t see himself rapping as a 30-year-old.

The Japanese Emperor is apparently explicitly prohibited from retiring so possibly he may be intending some other arrangement such as the appointment of a regent who would be able to take on the more physically demanding duties with which he implies he is struggling. Of course our own monarch is some years his senior (90 to his 82) and still going strong.  The Emperor on the other hand has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, reinforcing how we can’t generalise on the health and fitness levels of older workers. Despite political difficulties, public opinion in Japan is apparently in favour of allowing him a rest, reinforcing the notion of retirement as a well-earned respite from the rigours of a lifetime’s work.

In the case of Bow Wow, this sounds like a case of internalising a social norm in relation to age and music, though the article also refers to his argument that he has already achieved all he wanted. He talks of retiring from a music career but pursuing other work such as acting and television production, so here the term indicates closure on one career but the start of another. His decision however contrasts with a quite different trend, which we’ve noted before in this blog, of musicians and singers who carry on performing well past their  60s, beyond any ‘normal’ retirement or pension age. Is it different for rappers? Is this seen exclusively as a young person’s activity?

Age and the Olympics

We’re only at day 5 of the Rio Olympics but already there are some notable age at work stories to report. 

First, thanks to Mike Hytner here on the Guardian live blog, for pointing out that the oldest ever medal winner at any Olympics was Oscar Swahn, who won silver in the shooting competition for Sweden in the 1920 Games when he was 72.

Back at Rio, in the equestrian events, Australia’s Stuart Tinney (51) has won bronze in the team eventing competition, whilst America’s oldest Olympian at these Games, Philip Dutton (52) has won bronze in the individual jumping event. However, they may not even end up as the oldest medal winners in Rio as Australia’s Mary Hanna (61) is still to go in the dressage event.

At the other end of the age spectrum, I watched some of the women’s gymnastics last night, thinking how young some of the competitors looked. I’m sure that’s partly a function of the body shape determined by the rigours of their particular sport. Over the years, the minimum age at which gymnasts can compete has risen and is now 16. This is said to be to protect children from injuries. There is some debate about other problems with the International Gymnastics Federation maintaining the elite-level training affects the functioning of growth hormones, possibly causing delayed bone growth and the onset of puberty. Apparently the body is able to recover and catch up later if given rest periods.

This article in TeenVogue profiles some of the youngest Olympians over the years. At Rio, the youngest competitor is the 13 years old swimmer Gaurika Singh of Nepal. 
There may be more age at work stories from Rio before the Olympics and Paralympics are over!

We’re back – and what do your first seven jobs say about you?

We’re back from our holidays / staycations – what have we missed?

The MarketWatch website reported here a trend by Twitter users including celebrities to tweet about their first seven jobs (#firstsevenjobs); these were then used by some commentators to draw conclusions on differences between generations with regard to employment trends over the decades.

The hashtag was picked up in other countries with users pointing out that perhaps the differences might be based on class/privilege rather than on generations. Alternative arguments have centred on wider labour market changes such as technology making some low skill jobs redundant and the rise of the the (unpaid) intern. On a more positive note, the ‘sharing’ or gig economy is seen as allowing services from individuals to be simultaneously offered to and performed for multiple outlets. The ability to change jobs was also reported as being potentially lucrative for younger workers, with those who changed jobs during the third quarter of 2015 seeing a 6.5% increase in wages, compared with a 3.5% rise for those who stayed in their jobs.

So, not a very rigorous methodology, but an interesting take on early career jobs. For the record, Katrina tweeted her first seven jobs here:

Whilst mine are: 1. babysitter, 2. breakfast cook, 3. bakery sales assistant, 4. agricultural show milkshake maker, 5. bar worker, 6. grape picker and 7. database administrator. Note the food/drink-based theme for both of us – clearly a solid base for second careers in academia!

Some non-Brexit age at work stories – then we’re taking a blog holiday

It’s been difficult to escape Brexit and politics generally these last couple of weeks. So thanks to The Guardian for this article covering some stories that had been overlooked. In particular, an update on the campaign to address pension inequality for women (the cohort born in the 1950s who are affected by having payment of their state pensions delayed, and it is claimed, without proper notice). The campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) held a national demonstration outside parliament. They labelled it “the £30bn cut you’ve never heard of”. An estimated half a million women are affected.

On the other hand, as widely reported it looks likely (so far as anything political is certain) that our next Prime Minister will be a woman in her 50s (either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom). So will gender equality for retirement move up the parliamentary agenda? With Brexit to sort out, probably not.

The plight of young workers under the age of 25 who are not eligible for the national living wage has also been highlighted, as here in The Guardian.  In any event, the United Nations reported recently that the new national living wage wasn’t enough to ensure a decent standard of living, part of a finding that the Conservatives’ austerity policies breach international human rights obligations.

Meanwhile over at Wimbledon, Serena Williams has been busy winning matches and saying (aged 34) that she has no plans to retire: ‘Retiring is the easy way out,’ she’s reported as saying in the Daily Mail. ‘I don’t have time for easy. Tennis is just hard.’ (Maybe not everyone would agree about retirement being easy – though if you’re a multi-millionaire that must remove any money worries). And in the men’s game, at the time of writing, Roger Federer is still (just) in the Championships also at the age of 34. Retirement doesn’t seem to be on his mind either but as we are often reminded, mid 30s in quite old in tennis terms, particularly at the level at which these players compete.

We’re now taking a month’s blog holiday. We’ll be back on 9th August.

Happy summer holidays!

Potential class action against Google for age discrimination

It’s hard to tear ourselves away from Brexit fall-out (including this item in The Guardian about Germany considering awarding dual nationality to young British workers: age-based nationality tests, what next?).

But this article in the Daily Mail caught my eye because it relates to the tech industry, often reported as notoriously ageist. Specifically, there is a chance of a class action being brought in the US against Google. The original legal claim was started by Robert Heath. He had applied to Google for a job in 2011, when he was 60, but didn’t get it. He says he was fully qualified for the software  engineering position and was deemed ‘a great candidate’ by a recruiter. (That on its own doesn’t necessarily mean age discrimination if a position is over-supplied with great, fully qualified candidates). His legal claim however alleges that Google ‘engaged in a systematic pattern and practice of discriminating against individuals (including Mr. Heath) who are age 40 and older in hiring, compensation, and other employment decisions.‘ It seems that other people have joined the legal action, with similar claims (i.e. unsuccessful job applications). This being the US, claimants have to be aged 40 or older to be legally protected against age discrimination (unlike the UK position).

The latest development is that a court application has been made to allow anyone to join the legal action who is over 40 and feels they had been discriminated against by Google and not hired because of their age. One to watch!


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