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Age discrimination and age stereotypes: Still ongoing in UK workplaces

It would be fair to say that this has been a very busy term for Katrina and me in our respective universities so our apologies for not having blogged for a while.

What have we missed? A survey by CV-Library covered here on the Small Business website reports that 70% of UK workers said age discrimination is common in their workplace. The survey was also covered here by the Independent and by Free Press website with the latter highlighting that the percentage reporting this in Wales was even higher, at 81%. It didn’t offer any explanation for this though.

A decade after discrimination on the grounds of age was made unlawful, this is depressing reading. It is good to note that the survey did not assume that discrimination is only targeted at either younger or older workers, but could be directed at people of any age. Unfortunately the detail suggests that the application of age stereotypes are still a feature of recruitment practices in some organizations. Of those who said they were considered ‘too young’ for a job, nearly half said they were told they didn’t have enough experience and over a third said the employer felt no-one would take them seriously. For those considered to be ‘too old’, one in five were told that they would be ‘too stuck in their own ways’.

Almost half of the Welsh workforce says they won’t be able to afford to retire

Age Cymru, BITC Cymru and You Gov have worked together to place ageing in Wales under the spotlight.  The survey finds, perhaps unsurprisingly, increased concern about the need to work longer for financial reasons alongside worries about the health implications of doing so.  The survey found that 43% of respondents believe they will be working past state pension age and plan to continue working in their current job.

Relatedly, the Welsh Government are reminding employers that people have #nobestbeforedate and also highlighting that many over 50’s plan to keep on working into their sixties.


The aim of this campaign is to address myths about employing older workers.



Ageism and the tech industry (again)

Once again there have been headlines this week regarding issues of ageism in the tech industry. Thanks to my colleage Almuth McDowall for drawing my attention to this article in The Register which reports a survey by job website of tech workers. It found that in the US almost half ‘live in constant fear that age will end their careers’. It likens tech workers to Hollywood stars (in terms of their vulnerability to being seen as ‘too old’).

The article links to a blogpost by Raj Mukherjee which gives further details. Unfortunately, the piece uses all the generational labels (Millennials, Baby Boomers) that we find unhelpful and which research shows don’t usually represent groups between whom there are meaningful or significant differences. Still, I guess it’s interesting to see the attitudes and experience of people of different age groups in this industry. A couple of points to note: those who were once the ‘young guns’ in tech are themselves getting older. There seem to be some differences in the types of tech job that different age groups apply for (and where).

Mukherjee also very rightly calls out the importance of language, arguing that organizations can improve workforce diversity by using age-inclusive language in their communications and job postings. “Removing terms like ‘recent graduate’ and ‘digital native‘ can go a long way toward encouraging older professionals apply for these positions,” he said.

All of this is right up the street of Katrina’s PhD student Christine Brown who’s conducting her doctoral studies at Birkbeck on the professional identity of the older ‘digital worker’. This is her Twitter response to the tweet about the survey, in which she makes the point that those working in the industry may also reinforce age stereotypes.

Work longer unless…..

…you happen to be sitting on a very large pension pot and happen to be the person who oversaw the reform to state pension age.

Aside from the glowing tributes from the Civil Service much is made in the press about his retirement age – he will be leaving on his 61st birthday in January – and the size of his pension pot – £1.8 million according to the Daily Mail.

The news not only comes on the back of a raft of changes to state pension arrangements but also the recent announcement that any review of the specific changes to women’s pension age entitlements will not take place.  This is despite campaigns that had highlighted poor communication leaving many women born in the 1950’s with too little time to make satisfactory arrangements for their pension.

Generational “differences”? Work ethic examined

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have covered the topic of ‘generational differences’ more than once; the methodological limitations of many studies in this area are now well rehearsed – for example – investigating attitudes of one ‘generation’ and claiming it possesses some unique characteristic that must be accommodated in the workplace. If we were to be cynical we might say that these ‘findings’ promote a certain type of business – that of telling managers how they must / can manage this accommodation.

A recent paper published this summer reports on a meta-analysis of 77 studies and 105 different measures of work ethic in different ‘generations’ : Zabel, K. L., Biermeier-Hanson, B. B. J., Baltes, B. B., Early, B. J., & Shepard, A. (2017). Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Business and Psychology, 32(3), 301-315.

The article is behind a pay wall but see here in Science Daily for a useful synopsis: ‘The analysis found no differences in the work ethic of different generations. These findings support other studies that found no difference in the work ethics of different generations when considering different variables, such as the hours they work or their commitment to family and work. Zabel’s team did however note a higher work ethic in studies that contained the response of employees working in industry rather than of students.’

This is the latest in a line of papers that suggest that so-called ‘generational differences’ have been over-stated at best and at worst are the product of sloppy methodologies.

Back blogging with a round up

After an eventful summer we are back with a brief round up of the notable – though not necessarily insightful – news on age at work over the last few weeks!

Off to #EthSym17 tomorrow!

Rebecca and I will be presenting our paper called “Facing up to Work” at 12th International Ethnography Symposium in Manchester this week.  Looking forward to meeting old and new colleagues and getting feedback on this new area of our research

Pension age – changes brought forward

On a busy news day for the BBC (see #notonthelist), the increase in state pension age is to be brought forward to 2037.  This change impacts those who are currently aged between 39 and 47.  In principle this gives those affected 20 years to plan for this change, although future changes are not necessarily ruled out.

The timing of the announcement – at the same time as research reporting that the rate of life expectance increase was slowing – was noted by many as slightly incongruous.

Do “contemporary women over 45” need their own magazine?

I recently spotted “Renaissance Magazine” at London City Airport and it sparked my curiosity.  This is a new magazine, launched in 2017 and will be published three times a year.  From its website it aims to:

“break conventions with exquisite fashion editorials featuring models over 40, essays for the mind & soul and interviews with inspiring people from around the world”

and  address “the needs and interests of contemporary women over 45”.

You could (at a push) argue I am absolutely their target market – so why didn’t I buy a copy?  Because it really doesn’t look that different!

Issue 02 offers the option of ‘choosing‘ your own cover for the ‘body’ issue.  However these images raise many of the same issues that are often debated in the literature about constructions of the ‘acceptable’ ageing body (here, still looking like a super model).

This is timely in light of our forthcoming research presentations at conferences this summer in which we examine both our own and others aesthetic labouring and ageing!


Latest UK labour market statistics from ONS – time for a re-think?

The Office for National Statistics produces a monthly report on the UK labour market. Each time I see it I wonder why it records and reports on the work-related activities and status of people ‘aged from 16 to 64’ when we live in a country which has abolished mandatory retirement and state pension ages are steadily rising. Time for a re-think at the ONS?

The headlines for the June bulletin are that:

  • the number of people in work increased;
  • the number of unemployed people fell; and
  • the number of people aged from 16 to 64 not working and not seeking or available to work (economically inactive) also fell.

In terms of trends regarding longer working lives, there was an increase of 60,000 people from last year (up to 1.20 million) who were not looking for work because they had retired. I guess one explanation is that people out of work might choose to self-classify as ‘retired’ rather than as ‘jobseeker’. But the longer term trend is still towards working longer into later life. The figure of 1.20 million is 358,000 fewer compared with the same period in 2011.  The ONS attribute this to the ongoing changes to state pension age for women which has resulted in fewer women now retiring between the ages of 60 and 65.

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