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Spot the age stereotypes (again!): Can we design better surveys that go beyond this?

by on January 31, 2014

Nationwide Building Society has just announced details of a survey commissioned from YouGov that looked at the causes and impact of the trend towards working longer in the UK. The survey is also reported here in the Daily Mail.

According to the Nationwide media release, 41% of workers believe they will not be financially secure in retirement with 74% concerned that their pension won’t be enough on its own for them to continue at their current level of personal spending. This is familiar territory with other surveys reporting similar findings over the last few years.

The report headline, however, is that ‘working beyond the traditional retirement age is having a positive effect in the British workplace’. Reported perceptions around older workers, specifically in relation to their effect on the workplace and to technology, are as follows:

– 68% of all UK adults think having a person in a team at work aged over 60 has, or would have, a positive impact;
– 88% believe those aged 60 and above can be excellent mentors or role models to those in their 20s and 30s;
– 78% think that it is important that younger colleagues help those in their 60s to use new technology at work;
– 71% believe the introduction of gadgets such as smartphones and tablets has forced those aged 60 and above to keep up with younger peers.

Neither the media release nor the Daily Mail article say whether equivalent questions were asked in relation to younger workers. On what we’ve seen (which may not be the whole picture but is what has been selected for media reporting), it looks as if the survey question design draws heavily on age stereotypes in the workplace. So we don’t learn, for example, what percentage of people think that a younger worker can have a positive impact on a team or that smartphones and tablets ‘force’ all ages to keep up with technological change.

A number of readers note, in the online comments on the Daily Mail, that whilst organizations may have a culture where people can ‘stay on’, this is not the same as hiring older workers who are seeking new jobs. So there’s more work to be done tackling stereotypes of all age groups and expanding the range of subject positions that all ages can occupy. A start would be to look beyond the subject positions of the ‘mentoring’ older worker and the ‘tech savvy’ younger worker both of which identities can be limiting and restrictive, particularly to those seeking work.

So if anyone from Nationwide or YouGov is reading this, I’d be really interested in whether these other questions were asked and what the results were.

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