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Experiences and Perceptions of Mature Age Australians

Increasing mature age employment participation can have benefits for Australian workplaces, the Australian economy, and for mature age people themselves. However, discrimination against workers or job seekers on the basis of their age is a potential barrier to mature age people utilising their skills and experience in the workplace. This study explores the experiences and perceptions of age discrimination in the Australian labour market using findings from a nationally representative survey of people aged 45-74 years undertaken in 2011-12.

The results reveal that 16% of people in the labour market have been directly told they are too old for a job; most commonly by a family member or friend. However, it is the more subtle forms of age discrimination that are particularly prevalent. Discrimination in the form of exclusion during the job search process, which is attributed to age, has been experienced by 36% of job seekers. Further, age-attributed exclusion in the workplace has been experienced by 13% of people. These forms of age discrimination have adversely affected the desire of a significant number of people to work or work more hours.

Perceptions of age discrimination as a labour market issue were very common amongst mature age people. Five-in-six job seekers agreed that age discrimination was a problem during the job search process in Australia, while 67% of workers agreed it was a problem in the workplace. These negative perceptions also affected workforce participation; 31% of retired people cited that being considered too old by employers is an important reason for them being retired, and about half of discouraged workers said it is an important reason for them not looking for work. Certain population groups were more likely than others to experience or perceive age discrimination; namely those not employed but not retired, low income earners, people with an illness or injury and, for age-attributed job search exclusion, people aged 55-64 years. Age discrimination also interacts with other barriers such as health problems and very long-term unemployment.

This study has considered a range of measures of age discrimination, including the more subtle forms, from the perspective of mature age people. There are limitations to viewing age discrimination only from this perspective, and other evidence finds employers have positive sentiments towards mature age workers. However, the significant numbers of mature age people reporting that different forms of age discrimination affected their desire to work or work more hours, demonstrate that it is acting as a barrier to their employment participation.

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