Think you're too young to be affected by ageism? Think again.

Jun 06 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Think that you are too young to be affected by ageism? Think again. Workers as young as 35 are facing discrimination, according to new research, and many older workers feel frustrated and resentful that their valuable skills are going to waste when they still have much to contribute to an employer.

The research by MaturityWorks, a web recruitment service for people over 35, found that almost eight out of ten people aged between 34 and 67 believe that they have been victims of ageism. Seven out of ten of these say that ageism has affected their mental well-being, with almost one in three believing it has affected their marriage.

The interviews with 150 people, whose average age was 53, uncovered a bleak picture. More than six out of ten of the respondents experienced ageism before they reached 50. Yet astonishingly, more than one in ten (13 per cent) experienced it under the age of 40. More than half believe their age made them a target for redundancy.

Two thirds of victims of ageism are not confident of getting another job, with more than eight out of ten believing they have been denied employment on the grounds of age. Unsurprisingly, more than seven out of ten admit to being anxious about the future.

The MaturityWorks research echoes a recent report from the Third Age Employment Network that found employment prospects declining rapidly as people get into their mid 40s.

Toni Townsend, one of the founders of Maturity Works, said that the repercussions of ageism on society have largely been ignored.

“Ageism is creating a society where your ‘golden years’ are becoming years of frustration, depression, anxiety and resentment,.” she said. “A community of mature workers is being created who are scarred by an experience which stays with them forever. It seems extraordinary that a large pool of available talent – people who believe they can contribute valuable skills to a workplace – is going to waste.

“When you consider how many voters are aged between 45 and 70 – ageism affects a very broad age range – it is confusing why society is not more concerned about this pressing problem.”

For employers that fact that nearly four out of ten of ageism victims continue to resent the organisation which rejected them is a figure worth remembering as the age of the population as a whole increases – and with it the ages of both their customers and the pool of available talent.

The overwhelming message from nine out of ten ‘older’ workers is that experience is the most valuable skill they could still contribute to a workplace. They also believe that reliability, creativity and enthusiasm are their strong points. As one 55 year-old respondent said:

“By paying no regard to an older person’s abilities society simply casts off people like me as being untrainable, inflexible, weak and senile. Whereas the exact reverse is true – younger people don’t have the practical experience!”

And a 50 year-old added: “The fact that companies are rejecting people at the age of 50 or even younger for people with very little experience is very concerning. The problem is trying to secure a new job equal to your previous post. In many case I have experienced my job application going well until the age question arises. Not feeling wanted when you are still very capable of any job is the worst part of being older.”

New legislation due in December 2006 will make age discrimination in the workplace illegal. But for many people, it will be too little, too late.