Study finds ageism not widespread
Prejudice against older workers is not nearly as widespread as the community believes, a new survey shows.
In fact, workers aged 55 and over are no more likely than younger ones to be overlooked for promotion or professional development, ostracised by their workmates, or made to feel as if they should leave.
Based on the responses of more than 3000 workers of all ages, the findings undermine the perception that age discrimination is endemic. It also contradicts a recent smaller study that found some older workers felt they were regarded as dinosaurs by their younger colleagues.
The study's chief investigator, Philip Taylor, of Monash University's business and economics school, said his findings provided an antidote to the welter of negative messages about older workers.
''The results are surprising given what is said about age discrimination by advocacy groups and policy makers,'' he said.
''Young and prime-age workers are just as likely to complain about these workforce problems as older workers.''
However, Professor Taylor admitted the story could be different for older job seekers trying to get back into the workforce.
Recruitment agencies often failed to put forward older job seekers and employers fell back on age stereotyping.
The national survey, funded by Safe Work Australia, and undertaken by the University of Sydney and Swinburne University of Technology as well as Monash, examined aspects of the workplace experiences, health and lifestyles of Australian workers.
To the researchers' surprise there were no age differences in these forms of discrimination.
Professor Taylor said the problem with the barrage of negative publicity was that older workers internalised the messages: ''They believe they're over the hill when in fact older workers do not encounter the rampant age prejudice it is often assumed they do.''
Older workers who missed out on opportunities might attribute their lack of a success to ageism when the problem was lack of the appropriate skills, he said.
The chief executive of the Council on the Ageing, Ian Yates, said the latest findings, particularly if replicated, were encouraging.
''But we still hear from workers over 45 that they don't get access to training and development opportunities, and they're targeted for redundancies in downsizings. And when they lose their jobs it's awfully hard to get back in,'' he said.
A recent study of 1428 mature-age workers for National Seniors Australia found many felt they were judged on the basis of age stereotypes, and some felt their colleagues viewed them as dinosaurs.
The chief executive of National Seniors, Michael O'Neill, said there was agreement mature-age job seekers faced discrimination. ''Human resources practitioners need to clean up their act through self-regulation, or else stronger age discrimination legislation is needed,'' he said.