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Naming and shaming - getting rid of age prejudice

By Malcolm King - posted Monday, 5 September 2011

Like a cancer on productivity and dignity, age prejudice undermines Australian society.

One would think, considering how desperate organisations are to raise productivity and for governments to rake in tax dollars from older age cohorts, that there would be a revolution in the streets if older Australians couldn't get a job or were sacked because they were 50 or 60 or 70- but that's exactly what is happening.

Age prejudice is insidious. It scurries from the truth and dissembles in the shadows of HR departments and water cooler conferences across the nation. It costs us $10.8 billion a year.


Age prejudice hits both older and younger generations. If you're 21 and have just finished a university degree you may know the sting of getting knocked back for a job because you don't have any experience. But how can you get experience when you are 21 and can't get a job? That's age prejudice.

Age prejudice is not youth's revenge. Nor is it the historic tension between young people and their elders in the struggle for independence and power.

Age prejudice is like racial and sexual prejudice writ large. We can tell it by its symptoms: fear, intolerance, separation, segregation, discrimination, and hatred. The single underlying cause of race, age and sex prejudice is ignorance.

The mechanics of age prejudice

  • Mature Aged Workers (MAWs) are screened out at the beginning of the recruitment process by recruiters on instructions of their clients.

  • Young people sometimes discard older candidates regardless of their suitability for the position because they cannot identify with them.

  • Job ads use code words aimed at people under 30, including buzzy, fast-paced, go-getter, high-flyer, can- do, switched-on, on the ball. Another device was to ask candidates for years of experience or the date of graduation.

  • MAWs are passed over for promotion or denied training and career development because they are not deemed worth the investment of time and money.

  • MAWs are often targeted during redundancies and branded as "dead wood".

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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