Older people on the working “Scrap heap” 14



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Why do so many get deemed useless at 45, 50, 55 or 60?  And do women suffer more than men?


Seven’s Melissa Doyle in May 2013

The recent demotion of Melissa Doyle on Sunrise is being put down as ageism by some in the media.  Doyle, 43 years old was apparently “wearing thin” in some markets and bosses decided it was time for a younger sexier partner for Kochie, the finance expert.  Kochie, on the other hand is 57 years old and looks indestructible in the media – or is he just one survey away from the evening newsdesk too?  Sunrise ratings slipped hard this week, without Doyle.   Was it ageism, sexist ageism, or just reality?  Who knows.  It is not like we haven’t seen it before.   Could they not have paired Mel with a younger, more handsome male presenter to bring the youth into the breakfast TV family and shifted the older Kochie? In media, research is the way many decisions are made.  Test groups are given surveys, and decisions are made after observation of results, often observing trends over a period of time.  They need ratings, and ratings drive almost every decision that bosses make.  We all know this…


But what about in real life where decisions are made on how productive a person is and how much they can bring to a role.  And they are made on what a person believes, through the social norms they have grown up with.  Why is it we think 50 or 60 is older enough to be too old? Why is it that some people seem to hit the scrap heap when they are 50 year of age and others can go on forever?  Is it that bosses believe that some are not going to keep up with technology trends driving productivity in business?  Is it because older people usually have a more defined opinion, and perhaps a stronger self-confidence after years of learning who they are?  Or is it because some younger bosses fear being trumped by more experienced seniors?      Or perhaps you have another opinion?


My mum has a Masters Degree in Marketing, a post graduate education, 35 years of experience in everything from bookkeeping, childrearing, community and fundraising; to real estate, shopping centre management and management of a family business and yet she is working in insurance sales and manning a cab rank on weekends to make ends meet.  At 63, she’s looked for a satisfying job for over 5 years, and whilst she doesn’t complain (well, not too much), she isn’t satisfied.  She has applied to hundreds or even thousands of employers and recruiters who are blind to the issue… perhaps deliberately.


A friend’s mother works three different jobs at 61, trying to stay challenged as she pledges she’ll “never retire properly”.  She teaches at TAFE part time, works in a shop casually and does a small business’s bookkeeping too.  Hers is a life where she is scared to lock into any one thing in case it is taken away from her.  And whilst each job is a fairly light commitment, the commitment it takes to herself to work these crazy hours and juggle three roles is honourable.  She knows what she has to do to secure an income at her age, to afford her travel and lifestyle dreams and she is committed to it.


Another friend’s mother thanks her lucky stars she has a government job with a 17% superannuation contribution.  “It doesn’t pay very well,” she says, “But I am confident they wont sack me because I am over 55.  Now I’m here, I can stay forever!”.


My friend’s father on the other hand has worked until he chose to retire last year, comfortable and well appreciated in his corporate role, and then returned post-retirement to the business in a consulting role with flexible hours.
Some companies and institutions recognise the value that age and experience bring to them, and are keen to leverage the deep knowledge, decision making and risk management capability that might be much less available in younger generations.  Others just write it off and think that youth brings technology knowledge and everything else is unimportant.  They throw smart, capable people on the scrap heap?  For what?  A younger, dumber person who grew up with an iphone in their hand and potentially is looking for a little too much “work-life-balance”?.


Ageism is a terrifying reality for many here, but too often it is brushed under the carpet as something that isn’t real.  According to my mum, employers and recruiters simply ignore candidates that are over a certain age, writing them off as “over-experienced”.  She would leave her date and photo off her CV and it would still happen.   It is tragic, and very disappointing.  In a recent article, Age Discrimination Minister, Hon Susan Ryan admitted the unfairness and irrationality of age discrimination is clear and widely recognised.


It is the reason she has been placed in this role, to review the policy settings that sit behind our approach as a country to positive aging.


It appears the Hon Ms Ryan believes that the entire workforce should be allowed to work until they are much older and be offered the opportunities and legislative support to do so.

“How wrong is it that the age pension, which was introduced in 1909 for people  aged 65 and over – has virtually the same age rules as it did 100 years ago when only 4 percent of the population lived long enough to claim it,”  she says in an article on The Drum.

“If we leave work in our 50s or 60s we could face another 30 to 40 years of living.  How will we support ourselves?   What will we do to give our lives purpose?” she asks.


But this brings forth another, even bigger issue.  If we want to have 70, 75+ year olds in the workforce the biggest challenge we might have is in fact in changing the stereotypes of older people… the way we see them, the way we treat them and the way we choose for them to be represented.  Is 65 really old in this day and age, or it is just more experienced? You dont have to slow down at 60, 65, 70 or even 75.  But what will help employers and frankly everyone in our society that is younger to see this and value the experience on offer?  


I want to know today, what age you plan to work up to, and why… and whether you’ve had trouble finding fulfilling work over 50?  



Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. i’m 55 and single (3 divorces later) and there is no way i can even consider retiring until i’m about 90, i reckon! (didn’t have kids either so no bosom of family to melt into). i see my approaching “senior” years as very fulfilling, i don’t feel old and cricketty and i agree that to find a good job is increasingly hard these days after a certain age. with the baby boomer generation coming into its dotage now (us lot) there is going to be an inevitable rethink about ageing and our capabilities. after all, we are becoming the majority demographic for advertisers – they just haven’t woken up to that yet!

  2. Very interesting post Rebecca. The Government and indeed the many Australian people have not come to terms with the fact that we are an ageing society. I am a retired professional who worked full time until I retired last year at 67. My husband 71 and I made a complete lifestyle change. In our case a tree change to the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. We have found ourselves happier and healthier and our moderate funds stretch further which is a big plus!

  3. I totally agree about not having to appear old. Tony and I leave most people a decade or more younger in our wake. Age is an attitude! People can be OLD at 40. I am almost 69 and still in demand in various areas of my profession. For my own sanity I choose not to work any longer the hours I did. The best way to ensure that you are still employed ( as much as you want to be) into your 70s is to have skills that others don’t have, and ACTIVELY PROMOTE THOSE SKILLS AND YOURSELF. If you go for a job and your attitude is “I really want to work with you. This is exciting. I have skills and experience I think could be useful to you” and you show real passion….the chances are you will get the job.

  4. Agree with Coral. It does depend on where you live, and what the skills you offer are.
    I was lucky, no problem getting work from 50 onwards and gave up a part time job when I was over 70. I wasn’t highly skilled. I was once almost subjected to ageism, I was about 38 and applying for a hotel job. The application called for 18-25 women, and I thought like heck!, so I went in and didn’t mention my age. He either decided I would do, or was too scared to mention I might be over 25!..sometimes just do it.

    Sorry to see in TV its so brutal sometimes. Yet on other channels there are much older women reading the news. If you can do the job, and have the required qualifications, go for it.

  5. What we should be promoting is how much ‘life experience’ we have, that and an attitude that shows loyalty and a good attitude to work…That is what we have to offer.But as you say when will employers understand?

  6. I am 66 and up until I had to give up work as I unfortunately was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and required a mastectomy. I had been working in job services as a Manager my employer stood by me through Chemotherapy but as it happened I had to move to be nearer a major hospital . Since being able to begin work again I have applied for every job service position advertised in Cairns ….however apparently my 15 years experience is not enough…….or better still would it be both my age and the fact that being a BC survivor just sends out the wrong message.

  7. This is such a compelling article. I am 60 years of age with a diploma in business management along with several other qualifications, I am working as a Traffic Manager in the grounds of a private school. I am happy to be there but I get patrenised on a daily basis by most of the staff. I have often wondered what the issue is as I want to be treated the same as everyone else. Can’t see that happening.

  8. Since having an injury which operated on no less than 5 times due to incompetence surgically which resulted in me being forced out of the work force for 4 or 5 yrs, I have done over a year of further study to upgrade my skills and broaden my employment opportunities I find myself still out of work seven years later. I have had two interviews in that time and at the time of one of those interviews I was asked if I had been “schooled” for the interview when so many of the questions I was asked were pure common sense! I have given up after sooo many applications without even the acknowledgement that i have applied and now gain some small compensation from teaching in a voluntary position which does nothing to pay the bills.
    My history is from Management and running of businesses, training, PA to Directors of companies to nursing yet I am of no use any longer as I ‘dropped off the perch’ for a while and I am now old an obsolete, funny about that as I don’t feel that way!

  9. My intention was to never retire – at least not before 70. The R word was a rude word as far as I was concerned. Age discrimination in the job search began to affect me in my 50s (I’m now in my 70th year). I left the workforce in my early 60s because of ill health. There’s the rub – one can make all sorts of decisions and plans but then something comes out of left field and destroys it all. That’s one thing that the government does NOT take into consideration. I went on to Newstart and had to keep applying for jobs even though unwell. Fortunately, I only had to wait about two years or a bit less before I was eligible for the pension … but now the eligibility date is being pushed back further and further. However, the implementation of human rights legislation against discrimination in the workplace is not pushed further and further. It seems that in Australia we punish (when convicted) those who discriminate with a feather duster. We pass legislation and appoint yet another commissioner but don’t get tough on offenders. Discrimination is difficult to prove. It ought to be made easier. It would not be impossible – the Human Rights Commission could set out some guidelines about how discrimination in a workplace can be identified. The Mel -v- Kochie scenario would be on the list. And I could think of a host of others. Companies who have workplaces which are demonstrably inequitable would face stringent penalties. That would do for starters. The next thing that could occur is that the Human Rights Commission could launch inquiries into particular industries and corporations. In the first instance, I think of industries which have minimal female participation such as public transport. I would love to see an inquiry by the HRC into Metro in Melbourne. As for corporations, there’s always Leightons. I have a friend who is on Newstart and is in the late 50s. A teacher with IT/e-learning quals. He no longer has to apply for every job he can’t possibly get but has to commit to 15 hours of voluntary work each week. He has that well organised. He now no longer has to report in on that. Fortunately, he is a community minded person with a good work ethic and keeps up to date in his field. He gets some work related to his field but it is not well paid. It is tough. He lives in a public housing bed-sit and doesn’t own a car in a small rural town without a decent bus service. His circumstances are isolating. On the one hand we have employers rorting the 457 system and on the other consigning talented people to the scrapheap. Is this the sign of a clever country? Meanwhile we have a Prime Minister whose wife has an international corporation making money out of the unemployed! Interesting!

  10. I am still employed at 65 working in Aged Care, however a residents daughter was speaking to me the other day (they do become surrogate sisters when you see them every 2nd day) she was very subdued . I asked her what was wrong ,she told me she’d gone to her work on a Thursday to be told she was no longer needed in her position. Devastated she was, as in her mind at 60 years young she really thought this job was for the time until retirement. So much for a government job. Now she is on the job hunt…2 knock backs so far…very demoralising. I feel blessed to still have my job.

  11. Lots of aspects to your article Rebecca. Ageism does exist in the workforce. But I wonder now that the retirement age might be set to 70, where are we to find work?!! I also think the pension should be means tested, so many wealthy people sitting in million dollar homes receiving a full pension, whereas people like me who have no super, rent, and still work part-time (would love more work) have had to prove so much to Centrelink to receive a benefit. I am 66 and will not be able to retire, but having said that, I enjoy working/doing something I feel passionate about. There are so many issues in relation to this topic.

  12. PS. I forgot to add ..its ok for Ch 7 to keep old Kochie around – bald, biased and ageing, but not Mel who is in her prime and has more appeal than he.

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