Stereotypes associated with employment of older workers

Ageism in the Czech Republic is most commonly identified with employment practices. Every third older person has had personal experience of ageism when seeking employment 10 years before retirement. Significant inter-generational differences also exist in how Czech society perceives the value of older employees in the labour market.

The population of the Czech Republic, like most developed European countries, is ageing. This ongoing process of ageing is influenced by other demographic changes, such as the sharp fall in fertility in the Czech Republic and increasing life expectancy. Table 1 demonstrates the increasing percentage of older people among the economically active population.

Table 1: Proportion of ageing population (%)
Proportion of ageing population (%)
Indicator   2003 2010 2020
Dependency ratio: 60 /15-59 years 29.4 35.7 44.2
  65 /15-64 years 19.6 21.9 30.8
Age index: 60 /0-14 years 126.9 166.9 193.1
  65 /0-14 years 91.6 114.1 148.3

Source: Demographic projections ČSÚ, 2004, middle variant

These demographic changes require pension reform to extend the retirement age. Moreover, the conditions of employment of older people and the possibility of job fulfilment must be considered. With regard to employment, older people are often confronted by social prejudices and negative attitudes concerning themselves or their work role. In fact, according to Glover and Branine (2001), ageism is present in all phases of employment, such as in the recruitment of new employees, delegation of work tasks, remuneration and employment benefits, participation in decision-making, access to further training, and career development.

An attempt to capture the opinions of different population groups on the employment of older people was made by means of selective research. Three simultaneous studies were conducted by the Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (Výzkumný ústav práce a sociálních věcí, VUPSV, RILSA) , the main findings of which are given here.

Position of older employees in the job market

Only one third of respondents in the ‘Ageism 2003’ survey maintained that an employee’s age does not play a role in the labour market. According to respondents, the areas subject to most significant age differentiation were:

  • job recruitment (77% of respondents believe that age plays a role);
  • loss of employment (61%);
  • possibilities for further training (59%);
  • prospects for promotion (56%).

The age of an employee is of least importance in salary negotiations (only 41% of respondents saw age as a factor).

Stereotypes about older employees

Table 2 summarises certain qualities and characteristics attributed to workers of an advanced age. These qualities are standardised into three perceived types: ‘inadequate’, ‘redundant’, and ‘exceptional’. Two thirds of respondents believe that older workers lack knowledge in working with modern technology and computers, and more than half are convinced that older employees have problems with their sensory functions.

The view of older employees’ work qualities and abilities differs according to the age of respondents. This difference is noteworthy for the statement ‘older workers do not know how to adapt to change’, with which 46% of respondents aged 30-49 years agreed, compared with only 35% of respondents aged over 50 years. However, the ‘inadequacy’ of older employees is balanced by their ‘exceptional’ qualities, as they bring the added value of accumulated work experience (78% agreement). For the ‘exceptional’ type, the age difference of respondents was most evident in how they evaluated the efforts of older workers. Some 23% of respondents from the youngest age category believe that older employees work harder in fulfilling work tasks. This view increased as high as 41% among the oldest age category.

Table 2: Characteristics attributed to older workers (% positive responses)
Characteristics attributed to older workers (%)
  Total Age of respondent
15-29 years 30-49 years 50 years
Type: ‘Inadequate’
They lack knowledge in working with modern technology and computers 65 66 68 62
They have problems with sight or hearing 52 45 51 58
They do not know how to adapt to change 42 44 46 35
They do not do as much work as before 31 35 34 27
Type: ‘Redundant’
They do not want to leave in order to make their position available to someone younger 35 41 37 31
Their superiors would rather let them go 22 21 19 27
They are not popular among fellow workers 13 16 13 12
Type: ‘Exceptional’
They have more experience 78 81 72 85
They are more productive than some younger colleagues 35 32 30 44
They work harder 30 23 25 41

Source: Ageism, 2003

It is of some concern that more than half of the younger respondents (aged 15-29 years) answered that older people should vacate their work positions in favour of young people because the latter are more productive and capable.

Discrimination in the labour market

The ‘Life in Old Age’ 2002 survey asked respondents (aged 60 years) the retrospective question of whether, in the 10 years before retirement, they were turned down for employment as a result of age or sex.

Table 3: Experience of discrimination when seeking new employment 10 years before retirement (%)
Experience of discrimination when seeking work 10 years before retirement (%)
Rejection on the basis of: Total Encountered once or more times
Sex Education
Once More than once Never Women Men Primary Trained/without matriculation Secondary Tertiary
Age 12 21 67 30 39 34 36 35 16
Sex 5 6 89 15 7 19 10 11 4

Source: Život ve stáří, 2002. Note: Only those respondents who were seeking employment during the relevant period are included.

In the case of older people, ageism is a more dominant form of discrimination than sexism. Every third respondent encountered discrimination on the basis of age in job interviews for various positions. According to the results, men can expect a higher risk of ageism when seeking employment. On the other hand, university-educated job seekers met with less age discrimination during job interviews for various positions.

References

'Vidovičová, L., Age discrimination - ageism: An introduction to the theory and occurrence of a discriminatory approach in selected areas with emphasis on the job market, Prague, VÚPSV - research centre Brno, 2005.' (544Kb pdf; in Czech)

'Karpíšek, Z., Manpower supply (Selected problems in the further development of manpower sources in the Czech Republic).' (718Kb pdf; in Czech)

'Kuchařová, V., Life in old age. Report on results of an empirical investigation.' (630Kb pdf; in Czech)

'Glover, I. and Branine, M. (eds.), Ageism in work and employment, Hants, Ashgate, 2001.'

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