Making 60 the new 40

Orly Mercado

Posted on July 15, 2006

Stereotypes and the Older Worker

Shall we put an age limit in the qualifications of the new head of school?” asked the chairman of our ad hoc search committee. I was part of it as president of the parent-teachers association of the international school my son attends.

“This one is 55 years old. How long will he stay?” asked a member of the panel.

“60 is the new 40”, I said.

“This other applicant has already retired, he may not have the energy to do the job,” another piped in.

“60 is the new 40,” I repeated my mantra.

In the gym where I work out, this thought keeps me going as my recent birthday has clearly placed me in the youth of my old age.

Advances in medicine now allow us to not only live longer but work longer as well.

Inspite of the changes in employment policies, there still exists a number of barriers to employment for older workers. There is a real need to make employment more attractive and rewarding to the seniors who as a matter of choice or need, have to continue working.

When I was accepted into the faculty of Kobe College, I could not get over the fact that I got extra points just for being older and presumably wiser.

Age discrimination is a problem that can be solved only by a change in attitude both of employers and older workers.

As the exchange in our search for a headmaster would indicate, stereotypes are common. These stereotypes are held not only by the younger employees but oftentimes, even by the seniors themselves. A workplace that values respect for elders as most Asian societies do, could translate into higher productivity. As we develop the capacity to slow down the decline of our physical abilities, the issue of age can be viewed from the other end ot the spectrum. When asked during the campaign for the American presidency about the issue of age, Ronald Reagan’s famous reply was “I will not make an issue of my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

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