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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.

The tech start up where all employees are over 55

Last week the Telegraph reported on a South Korean Tech Start up called ‘EverYoung’ where all the employees are over 55, with the oldest employee reported as 83.  It reports that “The company, founded by 56-year-old executive Chung Eunsung, aims to address South Korea’s demographic timebomb and challenge a corporate culture steeped in age discrimination in favour of the young”.   This is no small operation either with a total of 450 employees.  While some of the policies here sit uneasy in a UK employment context – the company operates “a strictly ageist policy of only employing staff over the age of 55” according to the Telegraph article – the challenge to the common stereotype that tech start ups are only for the young is a refreshing change.  Nevertheless some aspects of stereotypes remain here as the article emphasises the presence of blood pressure monitors and benefits include cash bonuses for grandchildren.


Constrained Agency in Later Working Lives #retirement #laterlife @hydeM1976 @OUPAcademic

Many thanks to Martin Hyde, Associate Professor in Gerontology at the Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University for drawing our attention to a Special Issue on Constrained Agency in Later Working Lives in the journal Work, Aging & Retirement.

Work and working in later life and how this impacts on the notion of retirement is very much up for debate at the moment. We have reported a number of illustrative stories over the years on this blog, for example, individuals seeking to be allowed to work for longer but also occupational groups seeking to protect their retirement entitlement at ages below the current state pension age.

The Special Issue looks the role of structure and agency which are seen to play an important (but often unexplored) role in research on late careers and retirement. In this context, structure means social structures that constrain or enable the choices that individuals make around retirement. These could be social policies, social norms as well as an individual’s social background. Agency refers to the notion that individuals make their own plans and choices.

The dual focus of the articles is:

  • exploring the labour market situations in which individual agency is constrained against a background of population ageing, longer working lives, and the growth in ‘flexible’ forms of work;
  • exploring which individuals are being constrained in their agency during later working lives and in retirement processes.

Happily too the articles in the Special Issue are open access rather than behind a paywall. Here are the details of the individual papers with links:

Authors: Martin Hyde; Ellen Dingemans

Are “Voluntary” Self-Employed Better Prepared for Retirement Than “Forced” Self-Employed?

Authors: Douglas A. Hershey; Hendrik P. van Dalen; Wieteke Conen; Kène Henkens

Authors:Jan Paul Heisig; Jonas Radl

Authors: Hanna van Solinge; Kène Henkens

Authors: Hannes Zacher; Cort W. Rudolph

Authors: Monika E. von Bonsdorff; Yujie Zhan; Yifan Song; Mo Wang

Happy reading!

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