Today’s El País contains a cartoon, of a minister saying:
Ampliaremos la edad de jubilación a los setenta, pero no os preocupeis, a partir le los cuarenta ya no os contrataremos
(“We’ll raise the retirement age to 70, but don’t worry, we won’t hire anyone over 40.”)
Which is reflects perfectly the current thinking of nearly all European politicians and employers. Our neighbour is a head hunter for the medical industry, and she tells us it is still common to be asked to find a highly skilled professional. But not older than 35, please. If she submits a profile for someone who is older, she runs a real risk of irritating and losing the customer.
No-one has ever been able to explain how the dual attitudes that the cartoon summarises will actually help ease the pressure on the state pension funds.
The USA seems to be a little bit further down this road than we Europeans – Ruth subscribes to the Harvard Business Review and we regularly read articles pointing out that the baby boomers are going to want (need!) to carry on working past their retirement age because of the financial crisis, and that companies are starting to face a shortage of skilled labour caused by the falling birth rate. They urge companies to think about how to make themselves more attractive to older employees. Simple things like offering more flexible working hours.
On this side of the Atlantic, employers still seem to be embedded in a more ageist mindset and we notice that it is very rare for the companies where Ruth and I work to employ older people. Ruth works freelance, and gets to see a different company every couple of years, on average.
On a positive note, last weekend our 20-year old dishwasher broke down for the third time, and we went to Media Markt in the local shopping mall to buy a replacement. We both noticed that all the salesmen in the white goods department were over fifty. Maybe times are changing, but this is the first occasion that we have noticed a company apparently making a strategic decision to select older staff.