Ageing and Society

Employers and older workers: attitudes and employment practices

a1 Open University Business School, Open University
a2 Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield


The research on which this article is based examined the relationship between attitudes towards older workers held by personnel managers and directors in large organisations (500 or more employees) across virtually the whole range of industrial sectors (excluding agriculture), and their employment practices. The aims of the research were to explore the operation of workplace social closure and the social construction of age in organisations, and to provide practical information to better inform policy making towards older workers. Analysis indicated that attitudes associated with recruitment, training and promotion practices were: perceived trainability, creativity, cautiousness, physical capabilities, the likelihood of having an accident, and ability to work with younger workers. Attitudes which showed no relationship with employment practices were: perceived productivity, reliability, ability to adapt to new technology, interest in technological change and flexibility. It is argued that these findings stress the need to target stereotypical attitudes towards older workers if age barriers in employment are to be removed. However, it is also argued that educational campaigns alone are likely to exert only limited influence against a background of a long-term decline in economic activity rates among older workers. The research also indicates that future research studies need to take greater account of potential differences between different groups of older workers.

(Accepted January 14 1998)

Key Words: older workers; employers; attitudes; institutional ageism; social construction; exclusion; employment practices.

c1 Address for correspondence: Philip Taylor, The Open University Business School, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA.