Does age matter? Research may surprise you


Sometimes our youth can come back to bite us.  Baby boomers invented the catchphrase,  “Never trust anyone over 30” when they were young. Today, older job-hunters say they feel the sting of those words.

Age discrimination is against the law.  Still, surveys show 50% of older job-seekers feel hiring managers are significantly biased in favour of younger candidates.

Given the country’s demographics, if age is the elephant in the room, we have herds of elephants over-running interview rooms.  Canada now has a record high number of mature people.  More than 42% of people who are of working age are between of 45- and 65-years-old, according to Stats Canada.

We’re not ageing alone. By 2030, in the US, the average age will rise to 39, in the European Union it will be 45, and in Japan it will be 49. So it’s time to look at whether older employees are a concern or a competitive advantage.

The good news is that contrary to what some may believe, grey power is a valuable source of energy for employers.  For one thing, studies show the over-40 crowd is less geared to looking out for number one – and more motivated to generate value for others.  People between the ages of 40 and 64 lead the way in productivity, creativity and mentoring.

It’s just part of the nature of maturing, say psychologists such as Erik Erikson whose theories have been globally tried, tested and confirmed to be true.

Erikson’s research finds people 40-64 are driven by the question,  “What can I do to make my life really count?”  This demographic is exceptionally eager to come up with new ideas and make a positive impact in the workplace, wherever they land.  To feel fulfilled, they want to feel they have made the most of their day.

Still, in an age of Mark Zuckerberg (who was 19 when he founded Facebook) and Larry Page and Sergey Brin (both 23 when they developed Google), we could easily believe that brilliance belongs to the young.  The 30-something hiring managers who face candidates one or two decades older than themselves may worry that middle age can’t compete –and comes with outdated skills, and an aversion to risk and change.

But those stereotypes are simply dead wrong.  And reams of research prove the point.  For example, a recent study out of Duke University shows the average successful innovator isn’t a whiz kid at all, but instead a seasoned 40-something.

That study shows twice as many entrepreneurs who start successful companies in high growth industries — such as computers, health care, and aerospace — are over 50 as under 25.  And twice as many are over 60 as under 20.

The Kauffman Foundation also recently weighed in with data that shows the age at which people are innovative and more willing to take risks is higher than expected.

Using entrepreneurship as a barometer, the data finds the highest rate of entrepreneurship has shifted to the 55-64 age group. It is down among those under 35.

At The Bagg Group, we’ve placed almost 60,000 people of all ages successfully in full-time, contract and temporary positions over our 40-plus years.  When you come face-to-face with as many high-achievers as we do, you don’t even see crow’s feet –instead you see only their skills, experience and attitude.

It goes without saying that older candidates have to stay if not forever young, certainly forever up-to-date when it comes to their skills –just as their younger counterparts must.

But wise hiring managers know that that the urge to create, learn, contribute and innovate doesn’t wane with a birthday.  In fact, it usually just gets stronger with age.

As Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, so famously quipped when asked about working older, “Just remember when you’re ‘over the hill’, you begin to pick up speed.”

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