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'El edadismo': Is ageism a problem in the Spanish labour market?

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'El edadismo': Is ageism a problem in the Spanish labour market?
Is ageism a problem in Spain? Photo: Octavian A Tudose / Pixabay

Though Spain is a country known for its high youth unemployment rate, the risk of being unable to find a job grows the older you get. Part of the reason for this is 'ageism' in the job market, experts say.

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Unfortunately, unemployment has been a lingering problem in Spain since the financial crisis back in 2008. Between July and September of 2022, the joblessness rate was 12.67 percent, according to Spain's national statistics institute, the INE. 

Though unemployment does finally, after a decade and a half, seem to be recovering to pre-crisis levels, it is a socioeconomic problem that has blighted Spanish society for some time.

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READ ALSO: Spain records lowest unemployment level since 2007

Though the issue is often associated with youth unemployment, which has hovered around the 30 percent mark, it belies another problem: that of unemployment among the older members of Spain's workforce.

And when you consider that Spanish society is getting older (between 2008 and 2020 alone, the number of people over 55 grew by 2.9 million) it is not only a present problem but one of the medium and long-term future too. 

Older and unemployed

As of June 2022, there were 562,000 people over the age of 54 unemployed, according to figures from INE. The unemployment rate among those over 54 years of age is 11.7 percent (that figure before the 2008 financial crisis was just 5.82 percent) and though this pales in comparison to the number of youngsters out of work, losing a job at 50+ is an altogether different proposition to younger workers and presents a unique set of problems.

In fact, when many older people lose their job they stay unemployed: over half of the unemployed over the age of 50 have been looking for work for more than a year. One in two senior unemployed (that is, over 50) are considered 'long-term unemployed', according to newspaper Cinco Dias. 

READ ALSO: Spain’s over 65s exceed 20 percent of the population for the first time

In addition, Spain's average duration of 'active working life,' 34.8 years, is one of the lowest in Europe, according to a report by Mapfre's Ageingnomics Research Centre.

And according to data from the INE's latest Active Population Survey, in Spain there are almost 900,000 people over 50 years of age unemployed, which means that senior professionals represent almost a third (30 percent) of the total number of unemployed in Spain.

But usually, older people have more experience in the job market and have acquired their skills over many years. So why might some older people struggle to find a job, and why might some employers prefer younger candidates?

'El edadismo' 

According to some in Spain, 'ageism' (el edadismo) is partly to blame.

This is multi-faceted. Often employers assume that older candidates will expect a higher salary, or perhaps require more training for the rigours of a job in the modern job market.

The so-called 'digital divide' between younger and older people (that is, their technological skills, or lack thereof) is another explanation, in that many employers feel that the online and increasingly remote nature of the world of work favours younger, more tech-savvy workers.

Another reason is seniority. According to Raúl Herrero Barriuso, director of recruitment company Robert Walters, much of the explanation comes from decisions that are made at the managerial level. Usually, the people responsible for hiring new recruits are part of management teams or HR departments and are often over 50 years old themselves. Often, Hererro told Business Insider, these people prefer to hire younger candidates. 

"From my experience in the area of selection," he said, "I think it is because they consider that they [younger candidates] are more mouldable and profitable for the company."

Younger people normally have less experience, are thought to be more easily controlled by management, and will likely have lower wage demands, this logic goes. Similarly, hiring someone significantly younger makes it easier to maintain a hierarchy, as opposed to hiring someone of a similar age or even older who could have more experience than them.

According to Juan Fernández Palacios, Director at Mapfre's Ageingnomics Research Centre, "in Spain we are running the risk of establishing the idea that being over fifty means to have no future in the labour market."

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Prejudices

Often this ageism is based on tired stereotypes and prejudices - that older people will need more time off, lack independence, have health problems, or struggle with technology.

Rodrigo Serrat, a researcher in gerontology at the University of Barcelona, told RTVE that in the modern world "we have [older] people who are much more educated, with a very good level of health and who still want to continue participating". 

Some older people complain that they send out so many job applications, but that people don't even give them an interview opportunity because they have software that filters out candidates, without even looking at their CVs. 

Ultimately, however, in the world of work, there will always be an underlying economic reason.

Benefits

But companies would actually benefit from employing older people. Not only are they likely to have more experience, but they could also boost the economy. 

Ageingnomics's study, 'Senior Talent Map: Spain in the European context,' suggests that if Spain maintained an employment rate of 85 percent for people between 55 and 59 years, the rate that Sweden has, compared to the 65 percent it currently has, Spanish GDP could benefit by between 5 and 10 points.

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Looking forward - legal changes?

The Ageingnomics report also says that legal corrections may be necessary to overcome the problem of ageism in the job market. Rafael Puyol, one of the authors of the report, says that "the fight against age discrimination still has to be reflected on."

"We would have to ask for a new law, agreed by all the major players in the labour market, so that this could become a reality", he adds.

Another of the report's contributors, lawyer Íñigo Sagardoy, shares this sentiment. "An organic law on generational equality would serve as an umbrella for regulations to ensure that there is no discrimination," he explained during the original presentation of the study.

This problem of age discrimination in the Spanish job market clearly exists and is one that needs rectifying sooner, rather than later.

READ ALSO: Older and more diverse: What Spain’s population will be like in 50 years

According to new projections released by INE, Spain’s national statistics body, the Spanish population is set to undergo some big demographic changes in the coming years. The Spanish population is set to get older, with the percentage of the population over 65 years of age predicted to peak in 2050, when almost one in three will be 65 years old or older.

The Spanish economy may well be forced to overcome its inherent ageism to combat the coming demographic changes in society. 

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