Ageism begins at 45
When does Ageism begin?
It creeps up on you, slowly. A little difficulty in finding a job, a grey hair, and, perhaps, a midriff that shouldn’t be shown in public anymore. Then, suddenly, one day, after twenty or thirty interviews, you realize it’s not so much the economy as your age. The twenty or thirty something recruitment specialist was very polite, “Our clients chose their staff, and it is our experience that they generally go for someone under 40.” So what are the factors in ageism?
Age isn't beautiful - The looks!
It’s a fact of life that beauty attracts us all. It’s another fact of life that beauty begins to fade at a certain age, then there’s a middling period where, if there isn’t as much beauty as there used to be, one isn’t quite decrepit. Decrepitude, exhibited by the sagging of the skin or the baldness of the head, can safely be said to start in the mid-40s for most.
Two factors concerning looks are at work in the business environment. The first is that bosses are in a position to hire the people they prefer to look at and the second is that savvy bosses know that clients would rather buy from the beautiful people than the ugly people.
Yet another factor in finding a job as a certain age approaches is that staff expect to earn more with each passing year. For a while, as youth progresses up the ladder, that is a reasonable certainty. At thirty five someone earns more than they did at twenty five. The problem is that, for the most part, at forty five they begin to get expensive, and what they produce in the commercial world can be done just as well by someone aged twenty five at half the price.
Length of Investment
There is a certain amount of training that has to be done for all staff to become useful to business. The length and expense of this investment can vary. Naturally, the life of any investment has to be considered. An investment of five or ten years into someone aged twenty has a far better chance of being realized than an investment into someone aged forty five or fifty five.
While marriage might demand an ongoing commitment whether in sickness or in health, commerce does not. Staff becoming ill and needing three days or six months off to recover from health issues is an increasing cost to business as staff age. Payroll expenses like medical insurance become expensive as well.
Add to that the expense of hiring temporary staff as a result of absence caused by illness, and the prospect of hiring older people becomes less attractive by the minutes. So any headhunter or recruitment specialist will think twice before hiring someone of a certain age.
Loss of Control
As people get older, increasingly they begin to see the world around them for what it is. Unsurprisingly, they begin to notice the things that shouldn’t be, and when that begins to happen in business, it’s a problem for the boss. The boss knows it shouldn’t be as well. The problem for him is that his money, his salary, and his existence depend on doing things that way because otherwise his business wouldn’t function. It is a fact of life that most businesses are unethical in some way. They aren’t fair, and they don’t do things the right way, and incompetent people are promoted because they are related to the owner, and the CEO is having an affair with the dizzy blond receptionist.
While younger people might not notice or wouldn’t dare to say anything, an older person would. And that’s an issue with bosses. They cannot control older people as well as they can younger people.
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A combination of factors
So if you combine all these factors, you are left with some pretty damning reasons why ageism begins to rear its inconvenient head at forty five or so. All the above reasons might be uncomfortable for those who have reached and passed that invisible line, but from a business point of view, they are valid.
But what about wisdom and experience?
Business is not wise, and it isn’t about wisdom. Business is about money and about making as much money as possible. Just the fact that most people who have made their fortunes these days seem to be pretty good at it from a young age shows that wisdom and experience have nothing to do with it. A flair for business has more to do with high energy, the knowledge of how to do it (perhaps gained through observation of family and friends at an early age), and ready capital. Young people caught up in the excitement will work long and hard hours to gain their prize. To someone of middling age, that energy has gone the way of all gas prices (into the nether) and excitement has met reality.
There are two ages in business and one of them isn't going anywhere
There are only two ages in business, and old age isn’t one of them. Well, it’s only a valid age at the top of the tree. So if you didn’t’ get to near the top of the tree before the age of forty five, you’re doomed to be kicked off the tree sooner rather than later.
But ageism isn't legal...
No, ageism isn’t legal. It is, however, a reality. It would be extremely difficult to prove as well. So many excuses can be offered for turning down an application. “You don’t have a university degree.” “Your background isn’t what we were looking for.” “The position isn’t available anymore.” If you’re over a certain age, you’ve heard them all. So is there anything to be done?
Ironically, the only way the situation can be changed is to change the culture of business and the culture of society. That means changing its goals of profit at any cost as well as ingraining respect and admiration for older people as children are growing old.
Should mutton dress as lamb? :)
Back to wisdom and experience
Somewhere around the 80s I started hearing the phrase, “I don’t respect people who are old. Respect is something to be earned.” When I hear that, I lose all respect for the person saying it. I guess they are right. Respect has to be earned.
Look at the politicians around you. Many of them are old. Are they wise? I don’t think so. Look at the business leaders around you. Are they wise? Absolutely not.
Wisdom is foresight. It is the ability to use the experience and knowledge one has gained through the years to accurately determine the outcome of any action or group of actions. Wisdom is in rare supply, and while once upon a time it was thought to belong to the aged, the reality is that it belongs to those who spend long hours thinking, reading, and evaluating their life experiences. Young people can be wise and old people can be wise; but it has nothing to do with age.
Have you encountered ageism in your life?
I can't find a job
That’s the bugbear, isn’t it? We can’t find jobs, and if we do find jobs, they are at minimum wage and the stress of them is such that our older bodies cannot keep up. Who wants to work in a McDonald’s kitchen as the hot flushes of menopause competes with the increasing and perpetual heat of the cookers? Is there a solution? Luck rears its intermittent head sometimes; other times we live off benefits and grow more despondent. Other people, using the expertise they have gained through some two decades of working life, decide to open up a small business. Naturally, they staff it with young people…
© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger