Sex & Relationships

Why can’t women over 50 find work?

Why can't women over 50 find work?

Posed by model.

If 50 is the new 30, why can’t women find work past their 50th birthday? Zoe Arnold asks why we aren’t taking advantage of our highly-skilled mature workforce.

Jean is university educated. Actually she has three degrees — two undergraduates and a Masters — and she’s been working in her field for more than 30 years.

She has salt and pepper hair. She looks a million bucks since forgoing her dye and embracing her true colours.

Jean wants to move house. A sea change to the coast. Be a bit closer to the grandkids, and the beach. She’s not ready to retire, and nor should she be.

She has worked continuously for decades, across a number of related industries and yet today, she feels almost unemployable.


Because she’s over 50.

Specifically, 56.

Jean says she won’t bother going to a job interview again with grey hair: explaining her education and experience feels like nothing once a prospective employer sees her.

She’s not alone.

According to Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, a lot of people feel the same.

The Commissioner’s research, a massive 67 per cent of Australians over the age of 55 have been turned down for a position based on their age.

One respondent claimed that “It doesn’t matter what you have learned, you are no longer employable unless you own the agency.”

It doesn’t seem logical. For someone like Jean, she’s potentially got another 20 years of work ahead of her.

Think about it. We are living for longer and longer. It is no longer financially viable to even think about retirement in your 50s, let alone plan for it.

Besides, as a country we should be encouraging people who want to work … to work!

Susan Ryan points out that just a 5 per cent increase in paid employment for Aussies over 55 would result in a boom of $48 billion for the economy, every single year.

So what’s wrong with those over 55 working? Turns out it’s the rest of the population and our ageist attitudes.

The research shows we view old people as slow, forgetful, grumpy, sick … a burden on society.

And again according to our Age Discrimination Commissioner, the media is reinforcing these stereotypes: think about the last time you saw an old person on TV who wasn’t the playing the part of the crotchety old grump?

The fact that we need an Age Discrimination Commissioner at all shows how real this problem is.

Older Australians are just that: older. Not necessarily grumpier, or less capable, but maybe even more willing to work hard do a good job.

For Jean, she’s (sadly) off to dye her hair again, to make herself look younger than the number she really is. For the employers that haven’t hired her, they’ve missed out on a smart, capable, strong and fit 56-year-old.

Maybe they’ve hired someone younger. And maybe they don’t realise that that person, like Jean, will be old someday too.

Your say: Have you experienced ageism? When did you feel “old” for the first time? Contact us [email protected]

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