Age Discrimination in the Job Market?

Unlike the USA many countries in Europe have no regulations that forbid discrimination based on age.

Some 25 years ago people tended to work a lifetime for a company. Still today many companies here in Switzerland have extended retirees’ programs with meetings, outings and other celebrations — not to mention the retirees’ round birthdays published in the company employee paper. But since several years the market has been moving to a more “hire and fire as needed” model.


Not that there is anything wrong with this — but from an age on, which is more and more becoming the middle of work life, job applicants are considered to be too old for any job.

I recently wanted to find out more about an interesting position where considerable experience was called for. It was about judging job applicants in the IT field and evaluating their business acumen and IT knowledge.

When I asked the head hunter company for details I was told that this very senior position can only be filled with people under 35. The client would not accept people above that age since they are a young team and want to stay this way. Has anybody told them that in five years’ time most of them might be above this self-imposed limit?

Former colleagues tell me about their experience with head hunters. One recalled a phone conversation where he was told that being over 50 he can “just forget it.” Companies would not even look at the CV when the age can be calculated from the birth date on top of the CV as over 45 or 50 — or just guessed from the picture enclosed (birth date and photo are required in CVs in most European countries).

Retirement Age and Life Expectancy

Retirement Age and Life Expectancy (Source:

Due to the changing age pyramid in industrialized nations we will have to work longer and longer over time. Our social security frameworks were built with certain life expectancies in mind that are now far away from reality. And as people give up smoking, drive safer cars and live healthier life styles they tend to live longer and longer.

Zurich man with pipe

Zurich man with pipe. Source:

Here in Switzerland the retirement age is now 65 for men and 64 for women. From 2013 on plans are pointing to age 66 for both genders. And before the end of this decade it might reach 70.

That means that the percentage of working people over 45 will soon exceed 50%. Can we afford to exclude these people from the work place once they need to change jobs?

In their free time these “seniors” are paragliding, sailing, in-line skating, and travel all over the globe and many of them are definitely fit for business.

In our fast moving world expertise is often valued higher than experience. But with the experience comes a certain “been-there-done-that” approach and a good portion of resilience against head-less firefighting mode.

Many of the more senior coworkers help to smooth out personal issues between colleagues and help focussing on objectives and goals. International experience, conflict management, expectation management, assertiveness are other freebies these seniors can bring along for free.

Ad for Senior Project Manager e-Business

Click to magnify

But let me share with you another excerpt from a wanted ad that appeared on Monday this week.

The ad (see picture on left) is asking for a senior project manager for e-Business with a long list of requirements but age below 45.

I am just wondering how they can get all the experience asked for in a person below 45. Or means experience for them “having done it once before?”

Boy in business suit

What do you think on this subject?

  • Would seniors take the jobs from the juniors?
  • Where are we going to dispose of the over-45 part of the workforce?
  • Should we send them off to a far away island?
  • Did people forget about the hire part in hire and fire?
  • Should we lower the hiring age to compensate for the longer employment?

Augustin CarstensFinal Note: I did not cover discrimination based on gender. There has a lot been written about it. In Switzerland we had recently a (vice versa) case — if my memory is right — where a man applied for a position at the office of Gender Equalization. His application was allegedly turned down since he was a man.

On Aug 30th the Basle newspaper had an article about discrimination at the workplace due to weight. You have to be slim and trim to move up in the company’s food chain (pun intended) . . . — The article (in German) can be found here

The picture on the left is from that article. It shows Agustin Carstens, President of the  Mexikan Central Bank, a banking heavyweight.

Any other forms of discriminations we should add to the list?

About Hellmuth Broda

Independent Information and Communications Technology Strategist with an interest in the construction sites between business, society and technology.
This entry was posted in Management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Age Discrimination in the Job Market?

  1. Michel Ruggaber says:


    Have a look at the following post that might give us “old men” a little bit of comfort.


  2. Michel Ruggaber says:

    Other forms of discrimation:
    – race/nationality
    – religion
    – sexual habits
    – disabled persons

  3. Thanks for the interesting link. Appreciated!

  4. Due to this post I was recently interviewed by a local newspaper. You can find the article (in German) here:

    • Hellmuth, my only comment would be that thresshold is not 50 but younger, probably around the mid-40′. I have sent 100 of CVs in the last couple of years, got less than a handfull of interviews. I am convinced the age is the primary factor to decline an application. I do not apply anymore unless headhunted; I am focusing on my own business now, there is no age discrimination here, seasoned pros are welcome.

  5. Michel, I agree with you. As my blog above says, many in HR now draw the line at age 45, which is the 50% mark of your professional life if you start at 20 and retire at 70. That means that we “throw away” half of the capable working population. The newspaper article choose 50 since most of the data available cover this mark.

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