Mature-age workers bowing out early

by 23 Jan 2012

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shown that while the unemployment rate has been maintained at 5.3%, labour force participation has decreased by 0.3% – more people are simply giving up or bowing out of the labour market.

changes in the proportion of the people participating in the labour market Aug-11













The figures coincide with the findings of a recent study commissioned by National Seniors Australia that found negative stereotyping among the mature age workforce is rampant, and those doing physical work or IT/technical work perceived the highest levels of age stereotyping.

Based on a sample of 1,428 workers aged 50-75, the study found

  • 14% felt a high degree of workplace age stereotyping
  • 44% felt a medium level
  • 42% reported a low level

Lead researcher Dr Courtney von Hippel said overt discrimination was not necessary for mature-age workers to feel judged on the basis of stereotypes. Workers were found to be increasingly keen to prolong their careers for financial and personal reasons but were very likely to confront negative attitudes in the workplace.

“It's the loose commentary, not necessarily malicious, that can reinforce the vulnerabilities of mature-age workers,” Michael O’Neill from National Seniors Australia said. Not stamping out stereotyping and making older workers feel valued makes it very difficult to retain them in the workforce.

The research found those workers who reported the highest levels of age stereotyping were also the ones most likely to feel disengaged from work and contemplate early retirement. Some felt their negative experiences were no longer manageable and intended to leave the workforce.

Older workers who participated in the study reportedly wanted their organisations to increase training opportunities and to better acknowledge their contributions, as well as to convey a positive message to younger employees about the value of experience.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said the research further emphasized the importance of employers recognising workplace stereotyping. “The negative pressure of these stereotypes often result in older people … self-selecting themselves out of the workforce," Commissioner Ryan said.

In light of the skills shortage and the tightening of the labour market, Commissioner Ryan described the situation of reduced participation as “extremely concerning”.


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  • by Shane 24/01/2012 11:43:46 AM

    I'm not surprised by this at all. I run Australia's number one job board for mature age workers and we have older workers contacting us everyday discouraged at how they are made to feel at work and equally discouraged knowing that getting another job is going to be very difficult for an older worker.

    There are organisations working hard to help mature age workers such as DEEWR the Commissioners office and National Seniors, but employers have to take some responsibilty for stereotyping in the workplace as well.

  • by peter hurford 24/01/2012 11:56:37 AM

    Why would anyone be surprised at this chart, its not bowing out its being shoved out!

  • by Alison Monroe 25/01/2012 1:23:31 PM

    This is a complex issue with many issues converging. There is no silver bullet solution.
    2012 is demographic 'crunch year' and most employers are aware of the risks they face if they do actively engage with their mature workforce regarding future working (and retirement) intentions. A good Starting Point assessment for employers keen to take the 1st step can be found at
    Mature workers also need to take ownership of staying current in terms of skills and knowledge and planning for the future.

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