Please note: Views are my own and while ageism affects males, too, in this blog post I am focusing most of my thoughts towards the sentient being that is mostly affected by ageism: the middle-aged female.
This blog post has been updated because regulations introduced a few years ago by the Australian Government changed the age pension qualifying criteria up from 65 to 67 and 70 years respectively (depending in which year one was born), but also because there is still so much ageism in the workplace, which has a negative impact in our lives mentally and in the ability to earn enough money until age pension kicks in. I can attest to all of this after spending thirty-five years of my life in corporate human resources roles. And believe me when I tell you that I've seen it all when it comes to age discrimination, and I have even experienced it myself of late.
The biggest worry is that as of 2020 we have 13.6% (or 3.24 million people) living below the poverty line--according to the Australian Council of Social Services and the University of NSW. These days anyone who loses their job after age 45 (and they could be even younger, by the way, especially for females) will take an average of one year to find a job--and this is if they are lucky.
But let's look at ageism in culture for a moment. I firmly believe this is from where age discrimination stems. When you look down the ages, girls of 12 years (and even younger) were being married off to men twice or three times their age. In those days the role played by two people in a marriage was strictly defined: women became homemakers and had children; men fought the wars and provided for the family.
This went on pretty much until WWII when women went out to do the men’s jobs because the menfolk were fighting the war-- which they started in the first place, I might add! But once the world returned to peacetime women discovered they could do a man’s job and then some. Therefore, although they had a very difficult time fighting for equal rights through the ages, women eventually made it to the top—well, mostly--the majority of them still get paid less than their male counterparts (yes, I know, this is a gender thing).
So we kind of made it when it came to equal rights, but one thing we didn’t reckon on was the ageing factor. Sadly, the likes of Hollywood and the media still make it acceptable for a 20-year-old to be paired off with a 50-something actor. Classic movies such as Funny Face and Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn are a good case in point, but even in modern times we still see this kind of "pairing" of younger woman/older man playing out.
But back to history: women mostly became the homemakers after WWII plus they had children (as it was their duty, according to society, to repopulate the world after so many perished during the war). Meanwhile, the men went back to the role of provider and, because these were more traditional times, the man was generally older than his wife and it stood to reason that he would die off first and leave his family well provided for.
So what happened in more recent years? Most men still seem to like the idea of a younger woman—don’t they usually gravitate towards someone younger than themselves? And where does this leave the older woman? If she’s lucky, she’s married to a wonderful man who will grow old alongside of her "until death do them part". If she’s unlucky, however, she’ll be abandoned by her spouse--possibly swapped for a younger woman-- and she must fend for herself.
It's fair to say that most women have accepted that at one time or another in their lives they will go through a separation or divorce and, therefore, they must provide for themselves unless their ex pays maintenance of some kind. More than likely, as is increasingly the case in modern times, the woman will have to work and maintain herself (and any children she may have). Should she be inclined to look for another partner (for both companionship and splitting the bills) the chances of her meeting another man after the age of say 45 is almost nil. The reason? Men her age are looking for someone up to 15 years younger. So all of a sudden older women find themselves in an ageing purgatory from which there is no escape.
This isn’t so bad if a woman is successful and financially secure. After all, it’s better to be single than stay in a marriage for all the wrong reasons. The problem comes when a woman is not financially secure. She must earn her own living, but she cannot find a job if she’s been busy raising kids and has big gaps in her working career, or perhaps she was laid off from work due to downsizing, or much worse: if she’s age 40 plus.
Well, she may just scrape by and find another job at 40, but by age 45 it’s almost a miracle unless she’s well connected or is prepared to take several steps down from what she used to do and perform some menial job that pays peanuts.
So much for the Human Rights Commission and their crappy talk about age discrimination, especially for women. Unfortunately, they don't enforce age discrimination enough. Not long ago, I tried to report a recruitment ad for a medical receptionist that actually stated in their ad that they were looking for a young girl because the other girls on reception were young, too. I contacted the said employer and, incredibly, they admitted this over the phone. I then telephoned the Human Rights Commission and was informed that they could not do very much about it unless I could prove all this, including the employer's response. Whatever happened to their guidelines where an employer is not allowed to state age, gender, race, and yada, yada, yada, as our American friends say?
What happens now? The official pension age is either 67 or 70, and now we have a late-40s or early-50s woman looking for a job, but she cannot find one because the labour market is like Hollywood: they only want them young (especially the females).
So what does this woman do? How does she survive the next 15 or so years until she can collect age pension? And heaven forbid that she may be battling some kind of chronic illness, where her capabilities to work are limited, or she cannot work at all! And before you jump in here and shout out "disability pension", forget it! You have to slit your carotid artery in front of a Centrelink official in order for them to believe you that you are actually fully incapacitated, which makes this a moot point as you will not need financial assistance because you bled out all over their desk and you are now dead.
Okay. What next for this poor woman? There are plenty of famous actresses in Hollywood who are over 45 and still working, but even if they didn’t work many of them have already made their fortunes and can live the rest of their lives in comfort. Coming closer to reality, however, we have a disaster. There are hundreds of thousands of average women out there in their 40s, 50s and 60s who cannot find work, who become invisible to men their own age--and even men older than them. Yes, a 60-something male is still going to go for the young babes--and who pretty much get ignored by society.
I am talking in general terms here as there are many women who make waves and make themselves heard or who become influential in some way, or even famous, but what happens to the majority of us?
When I had a bread and butter job in recruitment (while penning novels in my spare time) I tried to help older women wherever possible. Mind you, I’ve had some tough battles with ex-bosses when trying to convince them to consider an older female candidate over younger ones despite the fact that the younger women were under-qualified! Nine of out ten, I was overruled and we had to give the job to the younger female. This also happened when we had a male applicant going for a role against a female applicant. The guy usually got the job. But this is more of a gender issue and I'll leave this hot topic for another blog post.
My experience with the ageing factor, and having to find work, concerns me greatly when I remember that this kind of thing is still going on. And now that it is I who am looking for a little gig to supplement my income it’s scary to think that I may never be employed again. I have been rejected a number of times already although I meet the criteria for many of the roles for which I applied; I have oodles of experience to offer; I am negotiable as far as money goes, so the employer will be getting a highly skilled professional at practically half the amount of what I used to earn; and I am flexible with hours. But to date, no takers--not even from a large hotel company where I once worked and set up the whole human resources function including company culture to meet Australian standards, but modelled on the culture of their overseas head office. So what does this tell you? I can do the job with my eyes closed; I am the same person I was back then (when I used to work for this organisation); I know my stuff back to front! So the only parameter that has changed is my age.
Meanwhile, the dream of supporting myself as a fulltime author is something that is outside the reach of 98% of fiction writers (myself included). It is like what they say in Hollywood when it comes to actors: "Two per cent of actors make it to the top; the other ninety-eight per cent are still waiting on tables". The only plus is that writing has no age limit. In fact, the older one gets the more experience and wisdom they have to contribute to their writing, but making it in any kind of creative field is extremely difficult, therefore, most "creatives" always have a side-gig.
It is humbling and distressing to see (and feel) that I don’t have the influence I used to have when I was in my 30s and at the top of my career. Meanwhile, older guys than myself still have powerful jobs (Oops! Going into that "gender" thing again). I know some who are way past 60 and still making super huge salaries as MDs and CEOs, partners in firms, and the usual "boys club" network. It's sad but true when we have to admit that it’s still a man’s world out there, however you look at it.
In the end, it may be that one day I may just have to take up a job walking dogs instead--that is, if I'm not so old that someone else has to take me for a walk!
Author Sylvia Massara's: