Commentary: Workplace ageism means we miss out on talent
Analysis by the United States Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis suggests that not all of the exodus was voluntary. Of the 1 million Americans aged between 55 and 74 who have left the job market since March 2020, according to Schwartz, about 400,000 were people who lost their job, and a year later still couldn’t find another one.
In the United Kingdom, the number of 50 to 64-year-olds who are no longer looking for work has risen to 228,000, according to the Centre for Ageing Better, which says that over-50s were half as likely as younger workers to be re-employed during the pandemic.
I have been wondering about this since overtaking a Deliveroo cyclist with white hair in London last month. He turned out to be a fit 65-year-old who is quite cheerful about going from a desk job to deliveries but worries about whether he’ll be able to face it in the winter. Like an Uber driver of the same age I met the next day, he can’t find anything else.
A former marketing executive in his 50s, who has suffered rejection after rejection, says he keeps being told he is “overqualified”. Although CVs no longer state birth dates, he says, “they can tell I’ve been around”.
AGEING STEREOTYPES MORE PERSISTANT THAN RACE OR GENDER
Is this prejudice? Research by two Harvard psychologists, Tessa Charlesworth and Mahzarin Banaji, suggests that negative stereotypes of ageing are actually more persistent than those about race and gender.
Drawing on data from more than 4 million tests of conscious and unconscious bias, they have found that attitudes to sexual orientation, race and skin tone have improved during the past decade, compared to stubborn biases about age and disability, and increasing negativity about people who are overweight. Charlesworth and Banaji predict that anti-gay bias could reach “neutrality” in 20 years’ time, but that on current trends it will take 150 years for the same to happen to ageism.
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