Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published for National Older Workers Week and...read more
More and better evidence will play a major part in addressing ageist stereotypes.
It is hard to get over to people the extent to which older people can struggle to find jobs, particularly those in their 60s. Many blame ageism, but careers experts and others sometimes don’t seem to get it. There is a certain tendency to dismiss these suggestions, because they are often difficult to prove, and to focus on ‘the positive’. The message that this gives is that ageism is possibly all in your head or at the very least exaggerated and that you are torpedoing your own efforts by your negative thinking. While it’s a good thing to be positive and to suggest ways of promoting your experience as a benefit, it can seem a bit patronising if that positivism doesn’t also recognise that there may be significant barriers that an individual alone cannot address.
I went to a festival last week and one of the speakers spoke about the barriers for women in STEM. After a long talk about everything from gender stereotypes in toys and products for children to the way the academic system operates against women, the speaker mentioned, in the Q & A in response to a question about mothers, that mothers need to be careful about the messages they give their children about STEM subjects. The Daily Mail wrote the whole thing up as if mothers are entirely to blame for the lack of women in STEM. Sometimes it feels like that is the case with older workers. It’s just your negative thinking, we seem to be saying, nothing to do with the world around you.
Of course, we also internalise ageist ideas. I went on a zoom call the other day after struggling with a new expenses platform and said something about how I was worried about getting older and no longer being able to cope with things like two-factor authentication. It relies on you having your phone glued to you at all times and never being in a wifi-free zone. My mum regularly complains about it all and I get stressed calls about things being in the cloud and the like. Sometimes it feels like we will all eventually be shut out of our own lives and a robot will take over. I realise that this is potentially me imposing my techno troubles onto older people generally. The idea that you can’t learn new stuff at any age is bogus of course, but I’m willing to bet that you may need to teach it in different ways. With more research perhaps we will understand better how the brain functions at different life stages. And with more age diversity in technology development perhaps we will build products that cater to the different needs of different age groups.
Hopefully, as the world ages there will be more research generally on later life stages. Just recently, for instance, we saw the launch of the trans-disciplinary Journal of Global Ageing, which will start publishing next year. The aim is to share research about what is happening across the world, given many societies are struggling with the implications of longevity. This can only be a good thing. More and better evidence will play a major part in addressing ageist stereotypes.