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Is ambition at work related to (chronological) age?

by on July 22, 2013

The Daily Mail recently featured this article under the headline ‘Workers lose their ambition at the age of 35’.

As is so often the case, it pays to delve beyond the title to see what’s going on. In this case, there seem to be two threads to the story which comes (apparently – we haven’t been able to track down the research) from a survey conducted by New York based research organization, the Families and Work Institute.

First, there is a reported decline in ‘ambition’ on the part of men over the last 15 years. Ambition is said to have dropped from 59% of men of all ages saying (in 1992) that they wanted more power and responsibility in their jobs, to 44% of men saying this in 2008. (Note: they don’t seem to have asked women this question!).

Secondly, the more recent Insitute survey suggests that the ‘age of 35 is the age when men and women no longer compete with their colleagues for promotion or seek greater responsibility in their roles‘. Without more information, it’s difficult to assess the evidence that supports this rather sweeping assertion or to analyse what may lie behind this. The article suggests it may be a ‘parenthood’ effect.

As usual, the reader comments provide additional interesting material on the subject, suggesting that e.g. ambition can relate to matters outside our workplace, ambition doesn’t count for much in terms of promotion (it’s who you know), flatter hierarchies in organizations means fewer promotions anyway, and of course the obvious point that generalizations should be treated with caution.

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