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Fighting ageism or reinforcing ageism? The tricky case of the Spanish bar

by on March 5, 2015

This article on the Huffington Post website popped up in our alerts this week under the heading ‘New Spanish Bar Fights Ageism By Only Hiring Waiters Over 50’. The story also appeared here in The Guardian. It’s a really good example of a complex ‘age at work’ story and its representation in online news media.

The bar is in Barecelona. Its owner, Kim Diaz, is reported as wanting to create ‘an old-school 1950s atmosphere’ so he ‘decided to strictly hire older waiters’  (note the equivalence of ‘old school’ with ‘older’ waiting staff). Spain has very high youth unemployment – though this of course is not mutually exclusive with it also having older unemployed people facing difficulties in finding jobs, as pointed out in the Guardian. The Huffington Post article makes the point that this disadvantage can be particularly the case in the service sector; indeed one of the waiters hired by the bar is quoted as saying ‘he believes jobs often go to younger candidates who require lower pay, thanks to the perks of living with parents and having fewer financial obligations’.

The bar’s owner explains his recruitment approach: “I was looking for waiters who are over 50 because I knew they’d be fantastic and because society has unjustly pushed them out of the job market. These guys have 20 or 30 years of experience, a lifetime. Here the waiter’s profession is in decline but the people I’ve employed see it as a vocation.”

So does this make the bar an example of ‘fighting ageism’ – adopting positive discrimination in recruitment practices that favour a potentially disadvantaged chronological age group in the service sector? Or is it ‘reinforceing ageism’ – deploying so-called positive stereotypes that use older age as a proxy for experience, ability and attitudes in a way that assumes younger workers don’t have these attributes? Or both? Difficult, isn’t it?

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