Older Australians have long complained about age-related discrimination in the workplace. Now, a psychology professor has said they are onto something – and explained why.
In May this year, the Benevolent Society found that age is commonly used to discount people in the workplace, and deny them jobs altogether.
And in a LinkedIn post circulating late last year, one hiring manager outlined the resistance and open hostility they faced after taking on a mature age employee – who turned out to be a perfect fit for the business.
Psychology Professor Mike Nicholls of Flinders University suggests the reason for this pertains to the dating game – that humans have a predisposition to “automatically” prefer the company of others their own age rather than someone older.
“While our response is also affected by ‘high-level’ social conditioning, we still seem to have an in-built subconscious reaction to even an ambiguous face or figure,” Professor Nicholls explained.
“This explains why young people tend to hang around with other young people, while older people associate with old and young.
Professor Nicholls cited the famed image below by cartoonist W.E. Hill, in part of a study in the US, which found that most people tended to identify the woman that more closely resembled their own age.
“The effect of this of this in society is that it makes it more difficult to encourage or even enforce inclusive behaviours, even in the workplace,” he said.
[For the record, maybe I am an old soul at heart: the older woman immediately stood out for me, despite being a 30-something. What do you see?]
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.