Eighty years ago, in 1940, the average life expectancy for men was around 70 years. For women, it was 76. Today, those numbers have gone up, with men averaging about 78 years and women living to the age of 81 on average.
It’s not the most exciting statistic in the world unless you’re inching towards the other side of 50 or 60 and you’re still working. If that’s you, then you might be familiar with the term “ageism.”
What is Ageism?
Ageism is one of many forms of discrimination. Lest you think this phenomenon is only limited to those 50-plus, it’s not. Those currently in their 30s or 40s may be closer to that gate than they realize.
According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), age discrimination is identified as prejudice against individuals who are age 40 and up. This implies that the sweet spot for the desirable candidates in the workforce is 20-40 years of age. Does that mean that employees over the age of 40 are less qualified or capable? Absolutely not. It is misconceptions like this that truly define ageism – and emphasize its damaging effects on workers in industries all over the nation.
An Aging Workforce
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our current labor force has seen steady increases of labor participation from Americans age 65 and older. This participation, statistically speaking, is projected to continue increasing in the future – potentially at growing rates.
Statistical analysis aside, it is clear to most that the workplace is indeed aging. And with this observation comes a plethora of stigma and myths about the capabilities of employees who are middle-aged and older. Like most negative stereotypes, ageism is riddled with stigma and false assumptions. Fortunately, the common myths that feed into age discrimination can be dispelled with facts.
The Benefits of a Mature Workforce
More often than not, more mature workers – or those over the age of 40 – have more work experience in diverse roles, industries, and team environments. This collective experience almost always culminates in employees who exhibit specialized expertise, invaluable industry insights, critical communication skills, and advanced problem-solving approaches. All of these unique characteristics benefit not just the employee themselves, but all those they work with and for as well.
It is also important to acknowledge that productivity – a common key performance indicator – does not necessarily slow down with age. In fact, some studies have indicated that mature employees who enjoy their positions match and sometimes even outmatch the energy and productivity levels of their younger co-workers. Productivity is the result of a focused mindset and a positive attitude, neither of which are age-exclusive.
By far, one of the greatest misconceptions about older employees is that they are less adaptable than their younger counterparts, especially when it comes to learning or adopting new technologies. However, adaptability, like any skill or ability, is one that can be honed over time no matter how old you are. Studies show that younger employees and older employees exhibit similar levels of adaptability when it comes to learning new skills or familiarizing themselves with new technology. In fact, these shared experiences tend to foster workplace cultures that are more collaborative in nature, fostering trust and mutual respect between employees of all ages and backgrounds.
Discrimination of any kind is repugnant, but it is also an unfortunate reality. Dispelling the myths surrounding ageism can mitigate its negative impact on individuals and the industries they serve. Ultimately, it is traits like passion, enthusiasm, adaptability, and humility that employers look for in all prospective candidates, reinforcing the idea that a person’s age is truly nothing but a number.