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New research shows ageing baby boomers halted by silver ceiling

Ageing baby boomers are facing increasing discrimination in the workplace according to new research by Liverpool John Moores University.

Research leader, Dr Diane Grant, explains: "Many baby boomers approaching late middle age are now considered too old by some employers to be worth considering for jobs, promotion or training. As a result many older people feel that they are invisible along with their applications."

She continues: "In order for this situation to change, it is imperative that age is placed on an equal footing with discrimination on the grounds of race or gender. Only then will employers and the general public change their attitudes on what older people can and can't do."

The three-year Gender Discrimination and Ageist Perceptions research programme was launched in 2003 with £403,000 from the ESF and the University.

It was designed to uncover the experiences and barriers facing men and women aged 50 or over when they try to access employment, training or educational opportunities.

Dr Grant explains: "The UK launches new legislation outlawing ageism in October but our research shows that there is also a gendered element to ageism. Older women are facing a double jeopardy of age and gender discrimination which could help explain why nearly 70% of women over 50 aren't working compared to 54% of men."

Around 1035 men and women were surveyed as part of the LJMU research along with 181 employers from the private, public, voluntary and higher education sectors. In depth interviews were also conducted with 51 respondents and 21 organisational representatives. The results show that the UK has a long way to go in order to enable the over 50s to lead a more economically active life.

Dr Grant explains: "As the UK’s population gets older, employers need people in their 50s and 60s to stay in their jobs for longer or to come back to work. However, our study found that some employers were reluctant to provide training for older workers citing the lack of payback they would get from the employee. If people are not too old to work they should not be too old to train."

Around 75% of respondents had gaps in their employment history. While the reasons differed for each gender - for men, gaps tended to be as a result of redundancy or unemployment while women took a break from paid employment in order to care for children or other dependents - the outcome was the same. Both men and women found it hard to get back in to the job market.

Dr Grant continues: "Intermittent work patterns reduce opportunities for both older men and women. Success in the workplace has to be seen to be achievable but the cumulative experience of disregarded applications and experiences of discrimination meant that many older people stopped trying and withdrew from working life altogether."

Key recommendations for employers include:

• greater consideration of experiential learning to ensure that women can return to the workplace after career breaks
• promotion of age neutral training, progression and career development opportunities
• the adoption of regular age and gender audits
• development of more flexible working and retirement options
• improved support mechanisms for older students returning to formal education
Dr Grant concludes: "Today's older women not only face challenges linked to being female and trying to break through the glass ceiling but they are also being positioned with men challenging the silver ceiling of ageism.

"Age discrimination not only has a damaging human cost but it also imposes serious financial pressures on organisations and the economy as a whole. Employers urgently need to adopt a more age neutral approach to recruitment and training. Otherwise the vast experience of many fit, healthy and able older people who could work for up to another 20 years will be irrevocably lost."

Dr Grant and her team have been awarded further funding from the ESF Objective 3 Programme to develop a new training programme to help older women beat ageism in the workplace. Together with the contribution from the University, the new funding amounts to over £480,000.

The training will be delivered to a national audience of women drawn from private and public sectors, trade unions, community initiatives and the education sector.

Shonagh Wilkie | alfa
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