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#Ageism in the #advertising industry: time to challenge age myths about creativity?

Thanks to my colleague Jamie Priestley for sending me a link to an article on Campaign magazine’s website about ageism in the advertising industry. We’ve blogged on the topic of the (still rather occasional and thus high profile) use of older models so it was interesting to read this thoughtful piece by Nicola Kemp entitled ‘Why ageism is adland’s next frontier’.

The focus is on the issue of age in the context of all those who work in this industry. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) is the trade body and professional institute for agencies in the UK’s media and marketing communications industry.Apparently, the average age of employees at all IPA member agencies is 33.7. This figure has not changed since 2009 – despite some major changes such as the abolition of mandatroy retirement and the increase in state pension age. As the article asks: “Where does everyone go?”

Campaign conducted an online readers survey about perceptions of ageism in marketing and advertising. 79% of respondents agree that the industry comes across as ageist. 32% said that they had experienced ageism against them in the workplace. 42% said they had seen ageism against others at work. 25% said they had been told they were ‘too old‘ when turned down for a job. And 40% said they had been told they ‘wouldn’t fit in‘ when turned down for a job.

The article discusses these percetions with those working in  the industry and in employment law.

Shilpen Savani, an employment law specialist at Gunnercooke, is quoted as saying: “Innovation is valued above experience and that has created an imbalance and a focus on change. There is a misconception that age and innovation are seen as mutually exclusive.”  There are reports about the difficulty of finding a new job in the industry once you are over 40 – the operation of an ‘invisible sell-by date‘ as one interviewee puts it.
It goes on to discuss whether these attitudes and practices will change as it becomes clearer that more people across all aspects of society will have to work for longer. This involves considering how ‘retirement’ in the 21st century is becoming a very different notion to that experienced by previous cohorts of workers. At this stage it’s difficult to say what this might mean for the creative industries where the received wisdom is often that creativity peaks at a relatively young age.  But it’s difficult to assess such a claim if no one works in a creative job in advertising past their 40s! Time to start pushing against the ageism and to bust some more age stereotypes.

Raising the UK’s state pension age (again)

Earlier this week the Guardian reported the prospect of a further rise in state pension age in the UK.  The former pensions minister, Steve Webb, claims that documents produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest that a faster (“more aggressive”) timetable for raising state pension age (SPA) was being prepared. This could affect those currently aged under 55 and would bring a pension age of 70 into the official timetable for the first time for people currently aged between 22 and 30.

An official review is taking place into the future of the state pension. Last month the DWP asked the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) to look at projected life expectancy in future years.

The Guardian asked its readers for their comments on this possibility. Here are a selection of those views:

  • ‘It’s basically a huge tax increase nobody really cares about [because] it [only] effects them in future’
  • ‘Increased life expectancy does not mean all people getting on for 70 are fit enough for a full-time job’
  • ‘We must fight cuts and lobby for a higher state pension’ but ‘we should also do everything we can to free ourselves from reliance on the state pension by personal saving and investing’.
  • ‘Something has to give, and working a few more years is preferable to a cull.’
  • ‘Younger generations are going to be smashed, meanwhile today’s pensioners have retired early and get triple-locked pensions, yet STILL think they are somehow victims.’
  • ‘But I worry about being divided against the older part of the population, surely division is exactly what the Tories want.’
  • ‘It is truly a sad state of affairs to see how the rich, bankers and corporations have succeeded in deflecting the blame from their own wrongdoings and got the “proles” to fight amongst themselves.’

Broadly these illustrate themes that we have been covering on this blog since we started.  We see here references to the problem of differences in healthy life expectancy (often linked to socio-economic status and work history), the dangers of pitting one generation against another (and deflecting focus from those with more direct political responsibility for social inequalities), and the discourse of personal responsibility. This debate will run and run, and it looks likely that the ‘triple lock’ aspect of the state pension will also be examined as part of the review.

Is a career change in your fifties news?

Several times this week I’ve caught discussion on Radio 4 of the FT economist’s Lucy Kellaway’s announcement of a career change to teaching.  Although until she becomes a full-time teacher she is running a new organisation to help others make the transition: Now Teach.

Rebecca and I have often alluded on here to our own previous careers – one a lawyer and the other as a management consultant – before making a change to academia via several years of part and full time study.  As academics at two institutions that specialise in part-time provision and enabling career development at whatever age, we both also see very many men and women of various ages making these sorts of difficult transitions.   While therefore I applaud Lucy’s approach and openness about wanting a career change I do wonder if it’s quite this newsworthy.

I am also concerned at the idea that a career switch is straightforward and unproblematic, or possible for everyone.  Indeed the Guardian article suggests that this transition is aimed at  those in a ‘“demographic sweet spot” of those whose children have left home and who avoided the worst of the housing market’.  Coupled with the clear aim to recruit business leaders this might limit the range of those who would consider this transition but whom might make very good teachers indeed.

However as the Guardian article highlights Lucy’s positive attitude is a lesson for all:

““What could be more rejuvenating than starting all over again at my age? The thought that I will be training with people who are my children’s age is absolutely brilliant, it really is.””



The care crisis hits the headlines

At first glance ‘the care crisis’ (#carecrisis) might not appear to be an obvious topic for our Age at Work blog. After all, isn’t this about ageing beyond the working years?

Well yes, but care is work.  And care provision, whether provided in a commercial environment or by family, is work.  And if care is provided by family then it can often impact the family members working lives, whether they are formally designated ‘carers’ or not.

In writing this blog I am aware that I am coming very close to a line that Rebecca and I agreed to avoid straying into territory that touches on our own family concerns.  However, a key issue here is that care challenges some of the arbitrary boundaries that we tend to assume are more concrete: between home and work, between parent and child and between health and illness. Care is a complex issue that disrupts, challenges and problematises these boundaries.

In debates about the care crisis, the issue of financial responsibility is the headline debate.  Here there is a further problematic boundary: between health and social care. Via the BBC, Ros Altmann is calling for a “new ISA to help people save for care could be introduced and firms could offer “eldercare vouchers” along the lines of the childcare voucher scheme, which attracts tax relief”.

Elsewhere the state of care is under scrutiny as councils shortage of care provision is highlighted and the quality of provision is further investigated, as in this recent Panorama programme.

However, this is not just about older people.

Care and the #carecrisis is a concern that operates at many different levels.  From those of us that find ourselves fighting and struggling to organise the care that a family member needs, to the broader issues of what care system should be in place and how it should be funded.  Many will be watching to the Autumn Statement on Wednesday for a response.  Many others will continue battling on a personal level regardless.


Prizes and age limits (again): the case of the #TurnerPrize

We have blogged before about prizes and age limits, including Katrina’s blog post about the Turner Prize last year when she called for an explanation for having an upper age limit of 50 years and for a change in policy. We received some supportive comments at the time.

It’s back in the news again, with this piece by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian recently arguing for the abolition of the age limit. He explains the rationale for the age limit (we didn’t get a reply from the Tate to our queries last year). Apparently the rule was introduced in 1991 to clarify that the prize is not a lifetime achievement award and to prevent it being won every year by Lucian Freud, or other established British artists. Interesting that it didn’t have an age limit to start with. But I’d say there are other ways of achieving their aim other than by using an age limit.

The position contrasts with the new Hepworth Prize for Sculpture which has just been awarded to Helen Marten.  As reported by the BBC, she has said that she will share the £30,000 award with her fellow nominees, in part in response to what she describes as the “the hierarchical position of art prizes today [which] is to a certain extent flawed”.

In contrast to many prizes, including the Turner Prize, the Hepworth prize has no nominating criteria: no age limit, no career requirements, and no rules on what counts as sculpture. Helen Marten (who is 31) is up for the Turner Prize as well and has said she will share that too if successful.

It remains to be seen if the Hepworth’s move to more relaxed nominating criteria lead to the abolition of the Turner Prize age limit.

Running out of (older) workers? Spotlight on Germany

This article in the Financial Times considers ‘Germany’s demographic dilemma‘ and suggests that immigration on its own won’t solve ‘the problem of a rapidly ageing population’. Leaving aside how ageing is once again positioned as a ‘problem’, the United Nations predicts that Germany’s population is set to decline from a peak of 82m in 2002 to 74.5m by 2050 .  And the percentage of Germans under 15 is forecast to fall to 13%, which would be amongst the lowest in the world.

This has resulted in more women and more older men being hired by German organizations. 54% of working-age women in Germany are employed compared with 51% in France and 56% in the UK. The employment ration for older male workers (those aged 60-64), has risen from 28% in 2008 to over 50%. The article doesn’t give the equivalent percentage for older women or say how ‘working-age’ is defined.

The article’s main argument is that immigration can mitigate some of the economic impact of an ageing population but only when immigrants are successfully integrated into the jobs market. And, even then, it can only be a partial solution: people will also need to work for longer and there needs to be investment in life-long education.  Among the practices suggested that might help are:

  • taking a more flexible approach towards life-long training and retraining;
  • greater use of flexible-contract posts which are seen to appeal to older workers;
  • changes to rules so as to permit more pensioners to continue working part-time without incurring major pension cuts.

Some of this has already happened in the UK (the change to pension rules) but the suggestion around flexible contracts seems to raise a host of issues, linked as it is to debates around precarious work and the gig economy.

Challenging age stereotypes as work becomes “age agnostic”

It’s always good to see challenges to age stereotypes, a theme picked up this article in the Harvard Business Review by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of the book ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and working in an age of longevity‘.

The article is headed Our Assumptions About Old and Young Workers Are Wrong and is based on survey data collected from 10,000 people from across the world aged 24 to 80. The authors report having found far fewer differences between the age groups than might have been expected with many traits and desires usually attributed to younger people being shared by those in other age groups.

Specifically, they report that:

  • It is not just the young who are investing in new skills.
  • It is not just the young who are positive and excited by their work.
  • Older people are working harder to keep fit.
  • Older people are not more exhausted.
  • Older people don’t want to slow down.
  • Exploring is not just for the young.

They rightly point out that those who completed the survey may not be representative of the wider population, perhaps being people who are particularly interested in the topic of life and work changes.  But as they say, the ‘over-simplicity of age and generational labels decreases our understanding of individuality’ – and, I would add, potentially limits what those of all ages are judged as being capable or suitable of doing.

Post US election comments on age

My Mum’s paper this morning declares there has been a ‘trumpquake’.  For the second time this year I woke up to an unexpected voting outcome – and this one was even more of a shock.

As with the discussion after the Brexit vote, just who has put Donald Trump in the White House is the subject of much analysis.  The Telegraph (amongst others) has a useful chart comparing exit polls (though of course these are not the same as votes), though it also appears that Clinton edged Trump in the popular vote: 48% to 47% (according to latest figures in the Guardian).

As with after Brexit, voting analysis by generation has been unpacked

and discussed as both a cause for hope and despair, as in this review of ‘millenials’ voting.

Hilary Clinton’s speech after her defeat has also been much covered in the press, particularly for its call to young workers (CNBC) and young women (New York Post).


Of course Trump doesn’t enter the White House until January, looks like we might be in for some 2017!

Generational obsession

The Telegraph yesterday featured an article entitled: We need to stop our divisive obsession with intergenerational unfairness, which featured links to a report by Ageing Better highlighting the wide variety of life experience of the over-50s.

Regular readers will know our interest in the use of stock photo’s to illustrate stories about age, and it must be said the Telegraph has surpassed itself here.

The article highlights some interesting points regarding the breadth of experience of different age groups and – although this is only highlighted for the over-50’s – there is a clear explanation that this is not specific to a particular group: “inequalities exist within every generation, and there is a risk that the focus on intergenerational differences detracts from the real issues that create division – namely poverty, insecure and low paid work, and poor quality housing.”  Indeed this echoes an argument we have made repeatedly in both blogs and publications.

It is unfortunate the the article confirms an association between age and generation, and in some sense validates generational labels, although clearly rejecting stereotypes.  I think there is also more to be done to unpack the age differences of older age groups rather than insisting that all those ‘over 50’ can be treated usefully as ‘group’ or ‘cohort’ for analytic purposes.  While the idea of the six ‘types’ of ‘over 50s’ is interesting, the labels compound some of the generational language that is so familiar:

While the descriptions of these offered on the Ageing Better website hint at age differences within and between these they are not fully explicated.  For a group that underlines (but doesn’t actually define) the word evidence at every opportunity I think this is rather a shame.





Age and experience row at British Board of Film Classification

As reported by AOL, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is apparently is intending to ‘get rid of five of their current six examiners by the end of the year and replace them with younger, less experienced, cheaper compliance officers‘.

The AOL article focuses on the potential for damaging impact on young children if films are mis-classified, as this is one of the points that has been raised by the Unite union. Len McCluskey has reportedly written to the head of BBFC, Patrick Swaffer, urging the Board to reconsider these redundancies.  Both AOL and RT News reproduce part of his letter in which he suggests that the decision to replace existing staff with ‘young, inexperienced graduates‘ may amount to age discrimination:

It has always been my impression that the BBFC has maintained the trust of the public, particularly in relation to its child protection responsibilities, through the recruitment of mature and experienced individuals who have come from a variety of backgrounds, both personal and professional. It seems to me that to replace those individuals with young, inexperienced, graduates is both unfortunate in terms of the BBFC’s public persona, and, quite possibly, a case of age discrimination.”

Conflating older age with maturity and experience and younger age with inexperience is always going to be risky on its own. Here it seems that the BBFC have previously recruited older staff to work in the examining department on the grounds of their more considerable work experience including a professional background in child development. So you’d need to look more closely at the person specification and job requirements to assess this situation more fully.

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