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Sloan Center News

When is a Person Too Young or Too Old to Work?

25 April 2009—Our Global Issue Brief When is a Person Too Young or Too Old to Work? draws from the European Social Survey (2006-2007) to study the differences in age expectations across Europe.  By surveying societal expectations, our research has found that, “while aging is driven by biological factors, the statuses associated with age are socially conferred.”  Women, for example, were found to reach major milestones such as adulthood, old age, and retirement earlier than men, adding gender distinctions to the societal variations.   

Cultural factors affect the workforce by altering the number of years men and women are considered eligible to work during their adult life.  The range of years between reaching adulthood and the age at which men and women are considered to old to work, varies by society and gender.  “At the low extreme is Ukraine, where the span between the onset of adulthood and the incapacity to work later in life is 34.4 years for women.”  This is in contrast with Ireland where, “men could be expected to be capable of working for 47.5 years in their adult life.”

These discrepancies in cultural expectations could significantly affect the labor force turnover rates in European countries.  While physical ability does affect the years a person works, the Issue Brief argues that societal expectations are the main dictators of the ages at which people enter and leave the workforce.  Employers could use the findings of the Global Issue Brief to target the age groups more likely to be receptive to career development in various societies.

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