Internalised and gendered ageism and disableism and its consequences for labour market participation of older workers: a mixed method study

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Social Pol Sociology & Social Res


An important public policy goal is to extend the working lives of older workers by encouraging them to delay retirement. Research has indicated that in addition to experiencing direct age discrimination individuals internalise stereotypes about older people and older workers. When they are themselves older, they may exclude themselves from work situations or career opportunities. Examples of stereotypes include that older workers are less productive and less motivated at work, though at the same time more experienced and wiser. Much of the interpretation of what it means to be older is related to decline and as being less 'able' than younger workers. However, the study of disableism and ageism have largely developed in separation from each other. This project aims to assess the overlap between the two to deepen our understanding and enable the effects of ageism to be tackled more successfully.

Moreover, internalised ageism is hypothesized as related to self-exclusion from the labour market and development opportunities within work. Therefore, internalised ageism may severely hinder the policy goal of extended working lives. By investigating the relationship between internalised ageism and disableism and self-exclusion this project will investigate the extent to which in addition to discrimination where older workers are excluded by others, older workers may also exclude *themselves*. It is also important to take gender differences into account as men and women have different labour market histories and because research has shown that both ageism and disableism are gendered.

This project is innovative in that it will assess these relationships by analysing both quantitative and qualitative data. The qualitative dataset allows an exploration of how individuals themselves describe their future working and retirement plans based on internalised ageism and disableism. The quantitative data will help generalise the findings of the qualitative data as well as testing specific relationships between the variables of interest, such as age, health, disability and gender.

This research will improve our understanding of how ageism and disableism are related to one another and how it affects self-exclusion. Therefore it will give indications for interventions to increase the labour market participation of older workers and it will suggest which stereotypes are especially detrimental for their employment. The project will involve stakeholders from business and the charitable sectors to work through the implications of this study to produce practical interventions. It is an important aim to ensure that the knowledge generated from this project will not be limited to academic audiences, but will be widely distributed through practitioner and public networks.

The proposal speaks to two of the ESRC's strategic priorities: productivity and to a lesser extent mental health. The role of the older workforce is acknowledged in the Industrial Strategy (HM Government, 2017) and encouraging older workers to engage in retraining, lifelong learning and delay retirement will have an impact on skills shortages and productivity. Discrimination is known to be a stressor that can impact upon mental health (Pascoe and Richman, 2009) a better understanding of internalised ageism and disableism can shed light on these issues and point towards interventions for ameliorating the impacts of discrimination.

Planned Impact

A variety of groups are expected to benefit from this research. There is much public discussion of older workers as well as workers with a disability. The "Fuller Working Lives" document states that "[t]here are almost one million individuals aged 50-64 that are not in employment but state that they are willing or would like to work." (DWP, 2017a: p. 7); see also the "Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper" and the "Industrial Strategy" (DWP & DH, 2016; HM Government, 2017). It is expected that the research will have an impact on three groups (in addition to its academic impact): policy makers, practitioners and older people themselves. The key task is to build awareness of the research amongst these stakeholders from the start. Allowance has been built into the researchers' allocated time in order that there is sufficient space for the impact generating activities.

POLICYMAKERS: Government is committed to keeping older workers as well as people with an impairment in employment. The Age UK response to the Improving Lives Green Paper suggests "As people with a disability get older, they become increasingly less likely to move back into employment, making it clear that age is an additional barrier to finding work. It is therefore important that the Government strategy for helping disability includes measures to tackle age-related barriers to work." (Brooks, 2017: p. 2). This research directly looks at the overlap between ageism and disableism and how this relates to individuals excluding themselves from social situations including paid work. This project will provide new insights which policymakers can take into account when trying to encourage older workers and people with an impairment in employment. The PI has established relationships with stakeholders in DWP and ACAS and will use these to increase awareness of the research and to reach out to other potentially interested stakeholders in BEIS, DH and the Government Equalities Office in the Department for Education.

PRACTITIONERS: Improved understanding of internalised (gendered) ageism and disableism as related to self-exclusion from paid work and development opportunities within work will be significant for practitioners in their recruitment and management of older workers. Since 2016 the Business in the Community (BiTC) Age at Work Leadership Team, led by Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva UK Life, has been the key partnership mechanism for delivery of the Government's Fuller Working Lives Strategy, the project will keep in regular touch with BiTC and seek to feed into their outreach activity with businesses. Mary Bright who works with Andy Briggs at Aviva is on the Advisory Board for the project. In addition to employers, those advising or helping older workers, such as occupational health practitioners within organisations, GPs, Jobcentre Plus staff, and others may become more aware of their own internalised stereotypes, the internalised stereotypes of their clients, and thus be better able to actively try to combat these. This could improve support for the clients and the employability of older people in the long-term.

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY AND OLDER PEOPLE: Tackling age and ability stereotypes will benefit the employment opportunities for older workers and individuals with a disability. Many who are currently not employed would like to be. Knowing more about the interplay between experienced ageism and disableism with internalised ageism and disableism may lead to new and creative ways to tackle them. This has the potential for a positive impact on the wider society. The project team will keep in contact and brief a number of third sector advocacy groups working in this field including Age UK, EHRC, Centre for Ageing Better, ILC-UK and Angela Watson from New Middle Age is on the Advisory Board.
The 'Pathways to Impact' details how we will reach these groups and the role of the Advisory Board.


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