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

Abstract

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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Is some ageism really ableism? 
Description An animation 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact As of 27th August 2021: Audience on twitter: 27.969; enagagements on twitter: 139 On Facebook: 6056 reached, video views 4,893 U Tube: 4,332 views and 189,407 impressions. A number of academics in the UK and internationally have indicated that they intend to use the animation in their teaching. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaWejaJmnQs
 
Title Virtual policy event: The overlap between ageism and ableism in the workplace 
Description You tube edited recording ofa virtual policy event. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Releasing the recording reaches a larger audience than the original webinar was able to do 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXE9H8eDD6o&feature=youtu.be
 
Title What is Ageism? Reflections on the Workplace 
Description Recording: CDAS and CASP in Conversation with Professor Sarah Vickerstaff. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Requests for further information. Recording will be used by lecturers and posted to students as a resource in the University of Kent and the National University of Ireland Galway 
URL https://www.bath.ac.uk/campaigns/what-is-ageism-reflections-on-the-workplace/
 
Description The project has resulted in theoretical development and new empirical findings.
• Theoretically, research on ageism and on ableism have been quite distinct but our work shows that a significant proportion of what we think of as ageism may in fact be ableism. We critically explored the overlap between these concepts as well as its differences, by combining literature on ageism and critical (feminist) disability studies. We conclude that if there were no ableism, there is likely to be much less of what has been referred to as ageism as well.
• The decline narrative for example (i.e., that with age comes inevitable diminution of cognitive and physical health), can better be understood as the intersection of ageist and ableist ideas in society. In society and in work organisations what it means to be 'old' is being in worse health. As with ableism, a correlation is being made between less health meaning less ability. This has implications for perceived work ability.
• Our qualitative research shows that the decline narrative is ubiquitous and often unchallenged.
• Our quantitative research shows that health plays an important role in the age identity of older workers, reinforcing the theoretically expected connection between health and age perceptions. However, the impact of this on retirement planning appears to be nuanced and varied. Relationships were further explored using qualitative research, leading to a more explorative and inductive focus than originally proposed.
• In the qualitative research, we found ageism targeted towards older workers (active discrimination) but also embodied/internalized ageism when older workers deployed stereotypes about themselves or other older workers.
• Individuals seem to internalize age norms and have a mental image of what it means to be "old". These age perceptions are frequently taken for granted in organisations and condition how people are managed and crucially how they manage themselves.
• As more people are working longer and retiring later, embodied stereotypes might be affecting their motivation, productivity, job satisfaction and willingness to continue working. We investigated three key areas in which embodied ageism is likely to impact older workers: their willingness to extend their working lives; their access to training and development and their willingness to discuss or seek help with health issues.
• Interestingly, its effect on retirement can go in two opposite directions. Some individuals wanted to continue working to prevent health problems that might occur from being in an inactive retirement, while others wanted to retire as soon as possible to maximize the enjoyment they thought was only possible before inevitable (serious) health problems would arise.
• We found a common age-related norm expressed by many employees was being 'too old for' for their job, to change job, and/or for training/promotion. These views were common amongst women and men and people working in all kinds of jobs: from professional/managerial to office based, skilled and semi-skilled manual work. Whilst other studies have identified a 'too old for' narrative, our research further refined this by showing that a 'too old for' narrative takes a number of different forms.
o We found a sense of what we call intergenerational disentitlement expressed by employees that they were now "too old" and that they should leave that "to the younger ones", this might refer to job or promotion opportunities or the concern that staying in a job at an older age might be denying a younger (and by implication a more deserving) person work.
o Our study also shows that embodied ageism can restrict older workers motivation to undertake training and development. Here the "too old for" can be about career stage and/or diminishing competence. This is important because it suggests that different interventions may be needed for both encouraging continuing career development and for accessing specific training and development initiatives.
• Regarding willingness to discuss health issues at work, we found that in the organisation with the most proactive and extensive policies around health and safety (i.e., regular medicals, health screening, policies for adjustments and redeployments), the organisational culture was more supportive of older workers. Their data monitoring age and health issues had shown that age is not a reliable predictor of productivity or capacity, and they were aware of this. In this organisation, older workers seemed to be more willing to discuss health issues and they felt supported by their organisation. In other organisations, older workers were sometimes hiding health issues in fear of possible consequences of disclosing them.
• Work sometimes had negative impacts on health, but policies were often focussing on diagnosed conditions and specific adjustments. There is a need for a wider focus, confronting not only the impact of health on work but also the impact of work on health.
• Organisations experienced constant tensions between wellbeing initiatives and commercial pressures.
• There has been the tendency to see ageism as a single effect. Our work has shown that ageism in the workplace can function in different ways depending upon the issue at hand. This is important for countering ageism.
Exploitation Route Further research could look at the impact of ageism at work for different groups i.e. managers/professionals; white collar workers; skilled and unskilled manual work.
Human resource and training and development practitioners could consider how the 'too old for' narrative maybe impacting the training and development opportunities their offer for older workers.
Sectors Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other

URL https://ilcuk.org.uk/webinar-ageism-ableism-and-the-coronavirus/https://research.kent.ac.uk/gendered-ageism-disableism/output/
 
Description The aim of the project's impact strategy was to have a lasting impact in four key areas: 1. To write at least four research articles. 2. To present papers in national and international contexts, also increasing the network and reach of the researchers. 3. To work with the Advisory Board to translate research findings into possible interventions, policy recommendations, and future research goals. 4. To increase online presence and work with others to find creative ways to present research findings to the general public. 1. Publications: We have published two journal articles and a policy brief, another journal article is received an R&R. A further journal article and a book chapter are in preparation (Feb 2022). Van der Horst, M. & Vickerstaff, S. (2021). Is part of ageism actually ableism? Ageing & Society [online first]. doi: 10.1017/S0144686X20001890 Vickerstaff, S. & Van der Horst, M. (2021). The Impact of Age Stereotypes and Age Norms on Employees' Retirement Choices: A neglected aspect of research on extended working lives. Frontiers in Sociology. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2021.686645 Beach, B., Van der Horst, M. and Vickerstaff, S. (2021) Enabling age at work How ageism and ableism overlap in the workplace, Policy Brief published by ILC-UK 2. Presentations: We organised and participated in a range of academic and non-academic conferences and events, extending our international networks and connections: We organised and chaired a symposium at an international conference and gave research papers as part of it: "Ageism at Work" at the Gerontological Society of America Annual Conference in 2019. Our presentations were also picked up by forbes.com, for whom we were interviewed: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sheilacallaham/2019/11/25/researchers-show-how-internalized-age-stereotypes-can-impact-career-decisions/?sh=2e9ee1f36eee We gave individual research papers at the British Society of Gerontology (BSG), 2019; the European Sociological Association, 2019; The BSG Work and Retirement Special Interest Group, 2020. Sarah Vickerstaff gave a keynote presentation to the Dynamics of Accumulated Inequalities for Seniors in Employment (DAISIE) project organised by Karlstad University Sweden and Mendel University, Czech Republic. Mariska van der Horst participated in a Panel discussion for International Women's Day on "Ageism: A Feminist Issue?" held in Amsterdam, 2020 and was a Panel member for a webinar on "Ageism, ableism and the coronavirus", organised by ILC-UK, 2020 (webinar available here: https://ilcuk.org.uk/webinar-ageism-ableism-and-the-coronavirus/). We organised a conference stream "Gendered Ageism and Ableism in the Workplace" and gave papers as part of it, Gender Work and Organisation Conference 2021. Sarah Vickerstaff was part of a recorded expert conversation on "What is Ageism? Reflections on the Workplace" organised by Bath University, 2021. Available here: https://www.bath.ac.uk/campaigns/what-is-ageism-reflections-on-the-workplace/ 3. Policy recommendations We worked with ILC-UK to run an online webinar for practitioners and policy makers "The overlap between ageism and ableism in the workplace: Insights for occupational health and training." 2021. The webinar was also recorded and is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXE9H8eDD6o&feature=youtu.be Based on our project and this webinar, we have co-written a policy brief: Beach, B., Van der Horst, M. and Vickerstaff, S. (2021) Enabling age at work How ageism and ableism overlap in the workplace, Policy Brief published by ILC-UK. 4. Online and new ways of reaching a diverse public audience Throughout the project we also sought a wider public audience through the project's website: https://research.kent.ac.uk/gendered-ageism-disableism/; writing a blog (https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/equalitymatters/age-and-ageism-during-covid-19/), tweeting and doing a podcast available here: https://theredundancypodcast.com/ In addition to the policy brief we wrote with ILC-UK we decided to commission two animations. Together with Science Animated, we made an animated video on whether part of ageism is really ableism as a way of introducing different audiences to our project findings; it is available on our website: https://research.kent.ac.uk/gendered-ageism-disableism/output/ and also on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaWejaJmnQs The second animation on ageism and training and development is currently in production (February 2022). Summary Through the different means detailed here we have engaged a wide and diverse audience, including academics, practitioners, students, policy makers and the general public. On Twitter our first animation had over 1100 active engagements, on Facebook over 4800 views, and on YouTube over 4700 views. The animation is being used in teaching on the social work programme at the University and Kent and academics in other HEIs have said that they intend to use it as well. Via presentations, the podcast, and the animation we have reached a truly international audience. For example, the podcast has about 19,500 listeners in 50+ countries (https://theredundancypodcast.com/). In all of these activities we have extended our own networks and significantly raised the profile of the early career researcher on the project.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Blog on Ageing Issues the British Society of Gerontology Blog: "Trapped in an extending working life" by mariska van der Horst, David Lain and Sarah Vickerstaff
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ageingissues.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/trapped-in-an-extending-working-life/
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Mariska van der Horst presented a paper: "To What Degree is Ageism Actually Disableism" to the European Sociologial Association conference in Manchester, August 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Mariska van der Horst presented on 'Internalised Ageism' at the British Society of Gerontology, Liverpool, July 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Keynote presentation at a research conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited Keynote presentation: "The Impact of Age relations and Ageism on Employee's retirment Choices - A neglected apect of research on extended working lives" to the final conference of the Dynamics of Accumulated Inequalities for Seniors in Employment (DAISIE) project.
organised by Karlstad University Sweden and Mendel University, Czech Republic. The aim was to report on the findings of the DAISIE project and invite keynotes from research leaders in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.kau.se/en/daisie
 
Description Mariska van der Horst was a panel member for a webinar on Ageism, ableism and the coronavirus, organised by ILC-UK. Thursday July 9, 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Panel webinar organised by ILC-UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ilcuk.org.uk/webinar-ageism-ableism-and-the-coronavirus/
 
Description Online symposium 'Organisational Influences on Extended Working Lives',organised by the British Society of Gerontology Work and Retirement Special Interest Group. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Prof Sarah Vickerstaff gave a presentation to the symposium on "'Talk' about age in different worksettings"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Organised a Stream "Gendered Ageism and Ableism in the Workplace" at Gender Work and Organization Conference 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Organised a stream at a Conference, one day event, with 11 refereed papers, which showcased current theoretical and empirical work looking at gender, ageism and ableism.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Organised and Chaired a Symposium: "Ageism at Work" at the Gerontological Society of America Annual conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The symposium brought together researchers from different discplines and different countries (the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA) to present new research on ageism at work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Panel discussion for International Women's Day on "Ageism: A Feminist Issue?" held in Amsterdam, March 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Mariska van der Horst was invited to join the pain as an expert on ageism. The rest of the panel were not academics but creatives and professional women. It helped to raise ageism as an issue that affects women in specific ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.com/e/international-womens-day-2020-creating-her-next-decade-tickets-97573995...
 
Description Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion about the impact of ageism and ableism on the recruitment and training of older workers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theredundancypodcast.com/
 
Description Presentation: "Internalised and gendered ageism: Older workers narratives about age" in a symposium at the Gerontological Society of America annual conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A reserch paper given as part of an international symposium on Ageism at Work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Report in Forbes magazine on this research project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The journalist from Forbes attended a presentation of our research results at the Gerontological Society of America and asked if she could write an article about it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.forbes.com/sites/sheilacallaham/2019/11/25/researchers-show-how-internalized-age-stereot...
 
Description Research paper: "Training at Work: The impact of internalised ageism" delivered at Gerontological Society of America annual conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The presentation was part of an international symposium on Training adults and lifelong learning
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description The overlap between ageism and ableism in the workplace: Insights for occupational health and training. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Virtual policy event
The research findings were outlined showing the perceptions of ageism and ableism among older workers and their managers and the impact these have on future plans for work. Much of the interpretation of what it means to be older is shaped by concepts of decline and disability. Ageism and ableism have largely been studied separately, a gap that this research project has addressed. The work highlights:
The links between ageism and ableism, and the extent to which much ageism is in fact ableism;
How occupational health can play a role in managing health in the context of an ageing workforce;
The role that internalised ageism plays in shaping training and professional development.
Following a short presentation there were two rounds of breakout groups in which partcipants were able to discuss the implications of the findings, first for training and development in organisations and second for occupational health and older workers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ilcuk.org.uk/ilc-virtual-policy-event-the-overlap-between-ageism-and-ableism-in-the-workplac...