Generation gap ( 2 of 2)

August 9, 2012

We should be discussing how society is going to avoid, as life expectancy increases, the prospect of an ever-increasing permanent army of retired workers supported by a state with ever-shrinking resources. Instead, Times Higher Education is engaging in an orgy of satisfying what should be outdated ageist prejudices ("Young guns can't go for it", Leader, 2 August). Gone are the days when any mainstream publication would stereotype female or ethnic-minority workers, but it seems it is perfectly OK to brand us grey-hairs as "stale" and "bed-blockers" deserving of little better than more finely tuned "exit routes".

The solution to the age crisis is for older people to be included in the labour market, and the economy will grow more jobs. The number of jobs grew after job discrimination was eased a little against women and more stayed in employment. It is not "shock-horror" that the proportion of academics aged 60 and over is now about 10 per cent and growing, but it is an inevitable part of social progress to avoid a crisis for the young whereby they have to spend an ever-increasing amount of their income on welfare for the old.

For me, as a (very) late entrant to academia, gratuitous ageist insults of this type are especially appalling. I sympathise with the plight of young academics, but it is no less daunting for people like me who begin a PhD aged 45. Are late entrants to be forced out in all but name or made to take reduced (or zero) pay in some "honorary" retirement zone?

Younger academics should pause for thought before supporting onerous conditions being set on the over-sixties who wish to carry on working. If such conditions are set for people wanting to work beyond 65, how long before they are set for people wanting to work in a given job beyond 35?

David Toke, Senior lecturer, University of Birmingham

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