Fifty and finished

Older workers say age discrimination is alive and well in Denmark

A new poll by Megafon for Politiken newspaper reveals that older Danish workers believe that their chances of finding a job pretty much disappear once they turn fifty.

Nearly 67 percent of those polled between the ages of 50–54 believed that their age would be a negative factor in the job market. Of those over 55, 84 percent said that their age would be an obstacle to finding a new job.

Professor Per Jensen of Aalborg University said that those negative attitudes can become self-fulfilling prophecies when an over 50-year-old worker winds up unemployed and on the hunt for new work.

“It’s likely to convince themselves that they will not find a new job, “ said Jensen.

Jensen’s research showed that older people who become unemployed often either give up completely or start "looking for work like crazy" and settling for almost any offer.

Numbers from Statistics Denmark support the idea that employment prospects start to decline after a worker reaches the half-century mark. While 81 percent of 45-50 year olds are working, that number declines to 76 percent of those aged 55-59, while only 46 percent of those between the ages of 60-64 are still employed.

Politicians and economic experts have preached for years that older and more experienced workers need to stay on the job longer if the welfare state is to survive, but labour expert Sanne Ipsen from the analysis institute CASA said that Danish employers have the idea that age and work do not mix.

“We have a culture that does not respect experience," Ipsen told Politiken. “Five or six years of experience are fine, but 20 years worth of experience is viewed as a hindrance.”

Of those surveyed, 74 percent believed that if a 35-year-old and a 50-year-old with the same qualifications were competing for the same job, the 35-year-old had the best chance of getting hired. Only three percent said that the 50-year-old would get the job.

Steen Nielsen from the business interest group Dansk Industri, however, doesn’t believe that older workers need to worry about being discriminated against.

"Employers are looking for the person best suited for the job,” Nielsen told Politiken. "In many cases the older candidate wins out over the younger.”