Ageing, underpaid, but still able 3

August 9, 2002

As a 50-year-old entrant to university research and teaching, I am saddened by the hostile response the European Union's anti-ageism legislation has provoked. The law exists to ensure applicants are considered on the basis of their ability. But in quoting figures that allegedly show a "high" proportion of older university workers, you encourage departments to pass over older applicants for junior lectureships on the grounds that it will increase the age average.

The director of the Equality Challenge Unit attacks the legislation for curbing a "healthy turnover" of staff. This is astonishing. If space is needed for new whizz-kids, why not get rid of "unproductive" younger staff who will be around for longer than "unproductive" older staff? Not that I support this idea.

Characterising older workers as "unproductive" is negative stereotyping that seeks to justify discrimination that the Equality Challenge Unit exists to, well, challenge.

In an era of lengthening life expectancies and pension-system strain, is it wise to be concerned about a reasonable proportion of workers being older?

Dave Toke
Department of political science and international studies
University of Birmingham

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