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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Ageism hits Generation X?
By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online

Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain
Never mind?
It's well known that ageism blights the careers of those who grew up listening to Elvis and the Beatles. But a new survey suggests workers from the Nirvana generation - those aged just 35 - may be suffering age discrimination too.

At 35, many workers feel they are at last making some progress up the slippery career pole; that they have won the respect of their managers; and that they still have their best working years ahead of them.

Actually they're viewed as being past it. Over the hill. Deadwood.

This is the disturbing finding suggested by a survey of ageism in UK workplaces by recruitment firm Maturity Works.

Too old at 35?

One in 10 of the workers who told researchers they had been victims of ageism were between 35 and 40 years old.

Staggeringly, 3% of those who felt their employers were discriminating against them for being too old had yet to reach their 35th birthdays.

Some sectors may be especially prone to ageism, particularly "young" areas such as information technology.

IT is known as a 'young' sector
Work only fit for younger fingers?
"My boss ... looks for specifically younger people because they're cheaper," one IT worker told the Employers Forum on Age.

Having returned to university as a mature student in her mid-30s, Caroline Syon found it almost impossible to find a job placement in IT during her computing course.

"I interviewed for five or six placements, but the positions always went to the younger students. I was sensible and mature, but the firms would go for 20-year-olds who seemed to be more interested in speeding in their cars than working."

Trying to find a full-time post was no easier. As a mother of five, Mrs Syon felt that younger, single candidates were selected over her because it was thought they would "work all hours".

Oldest in the office

Not yet 40, Mrs Syon says that in every firm she has worked for she has been one of the oldest employees - something which has caused her to be teased.

Her age, she says, was also a major factor in her being picked for redundancy by one employer, while younger, newer workers were kept on.

"I don't feel old, I don't feel 40," she says.

Dr Kerry Platman, an expert on ageism from the Open University, says the media is another area dominated by young people where age prejudice may kick in for workers barely in their 30s.

At 94, Alistair Cooke continues to broadcast
Alistair Cooke, 94, remains the exception in the media
In Hollywood, 175 script writers began a legal action against the major TV networks saying people over 40 were not being employed.

Lawyers working for the writers - some of whose credits included Kojak and Knots Landing - said that their clients were being "greylisted" by studios seeking to hire only talent fresh from college.

While the Hollywood case has yet to be resolved, American workers who feel they have been discriminated against on grounds of age at least have recourse to the law, unlike in the UK.

Dr Platman says British workers must rely on voluntary codes of conduct to protect them from ageism, which has proved a "patchy and sporadic" affair.

Ignorant of ageism

"Outside of human resources departments and those who have been victims of discrimination, there continues to be a great degree of ignorance about ageism. It is a long-standing and deep-seated problem."

For legislative help, those dogged by ageism will have wait until the portion of the European Employment Directive on Equal Treatment concerning age is adopted in 2006 - well behind the parts relating to religion and sexual orientation.

So pity the Generation Xers until then? Perhaps not, says Dr Platman. "Ageism could begin at 35, but I think the real cusp is more likely to be 45."

Employees in their 30s may also be better placed than younger colleagues.

Young people suffer ageism too
It might be a bar to the boardroom
School leavers and graduates feel themselves to be less favoured than older workers doing similar jobs, according to a report by the Department for Work and Pensions' Age Positive team.

Anecdotal evidence pointed to open and more subtle ageism working against young employees, who felt they had unfairly missed out on job vacancies, promotions and pay rises.

Some young people also felt they were widely stereotyped as being unreliable. One older worker complained bitterly to researchers that 17-year-olds "have fairy hands, they don't want to graft" and said younger workers would be turn up with debilitating hangovers or take sick days "because it's raining".

The report suggested that while those in their teens and 20s felt they were less discriminated against than workers in their 50s, 60s and beyond, the idea that age should be a bar to their careers angered many.

"Age shouldn't come into it. You should be allowed to apply for the job, it shouldn't even be mentioned. What's it got to do with anything?" said one twentysomething graduate.

Have you experienced ageism despite being under 40? Send your comments using the form below.

Your comments so far:

I had one employment agency tell me I was 'a bit long in the tooth' at 35!
Mary, UK

I work in a very young industry (computer gaming), however I've often felt that recruitment agencies are the worst culprits in all of this. Although never mentioned specifically, I do suspect that my age (41) prevents my CV from going out to prospective employers. In seven years I've never yet had a recruitment agency set up an interview for me, despite the fact that I've never had a problem getting a job once I've used other channels to get the interview.

I'm a 36 year old IT Manager, and I guess I've benefited from ageism. IT ageism is fairly obvious - younger guys come across as being keener, and they are a lot cheaper. They also have little sense of proportion and are more likely to be persuaded to work stupid hours to hit a stupid deadlines. Unfortunately, they are more prone to leave the organisation, have little idea of how business works and their IT skills are frequently not as good. I'd employ an older guy every time - but where are they?? We don't get any CVs for them!!
Dave Milne, Scotland

I'm 25, and I have already experienced ageism first hand. I am interested in a career in performing arts, yet when applying to drama schools and colleges, I have already been warned that my age could hold me back, and affect my chances in gaining a place on a course, especially when I'm up against students in the 18 to 20 age category. I find this totally ridiculous, as I really have the drive and enthusiasm to do this, and should I start a course this year, I would only be 28 on completion. The world has gone mad.
Beth, UK

I can confirm the ageism personally. I was at a job interview with two other candidates who I knew. One of my fellow candidates actually realised halfway through his interview that the position being offered wasn't for him, and recommended me instead. The reply was interesting - "Yes we think John's got what we need for the job, but we won't be giving it to him because we feel he's too old" I'm only 40!! Scrapheap anyone?
John Campbell, UK

When I went back to work after my last child, at age 33, I started with a temping agency in Bradford. At one company I found they had apologised for providing such an old temp! I was not amused! I am now a senior PA and able to choose which agency I employ so I have blacklisted said agency. What goes around - comes around.
Janet, UK

In the IT sector (and coding in particular) younger minds generally work faster. I could certainly think quicker about coding issues when I was a teenager then now (32). I run a small IT company and I would rather employ a keen teenager who code programs computers quickly than an older person whose mind is slowing down. This has nothing to do with pay, it is a reality of the industry. Conversely, our office manager and IT hardware employees are older than me, because experience is worth more in those areas. Discrimination may exist in some sectors, but in the coding world I believe it is justified.
Juice, Scotland

I am in IT, at 55-years-old have been since 1968. Employers want the 35 years' experience, but in a 20-year old. Just can't get the staff, can you?
Geoff Johnson, UK

I used to put my age on my CV, when I was 21. I never got an interview, because I was young but in a technically superior job. I took my age off my CV, and got three interviews in the first week. I'm now 27 and I haven't looked back. Take your age off your CV, and let them judge you on you, not a date.
Steve A, UK

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22 Jan 03  |  Entertainment
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