Should job-hogging over-50s all resign?

Man at desk covered in cobwebs

Too few jobs. Rising unemployment, especially for young people. Here's a radical solution, says commentator on office and workplace life, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times (born 1959).

Wasting time on the internet recently I came upon a nasty statistic. In the next 10 years, there will be 1.2bn young people looking for work and only 300m jobs to go around.

Next to this stark stat was an invitation to write an essay on what you would do to solve the problem.

My essay is quite short and can be summarised in one word.


Out of office

People queuing outside Job Centre
  • Default retirement age was effectively scrapped in the UK last October
  • UK Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by a solicitor told to retire just after his 65th birthday

This inescapable, awkward truth has been rammed home to me in the past few months as I keep meeting bright people in their 20s and 30s desperate for a job in journalism - and for mine in particular.

I fob them off with platitudes but the real reason they can't do my job is that I'm doing it myself.

The same is true for almost all professions. The young can't advance because everywhere they find my complacent generation is in situ. Thus the only way of solving the problem is to make everyone of a certain age, say over 50, walk the plank.

Before I go any further, I ought to make one thing clear. This is not a resignation letter - I intend to hang on for dear life. It is just that I can't resist pointing out the obvious, even though it is not in my interests to do so.

The choice boils down to whether it's better for people to have a decade at the beginning or at the end of their careers where they are demoralised and underemployed. The answer is easy: surely it is better to be more active at the beginning.

Start Quote

Almost all the people earning grotesque amounts are aged over 50”

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To have people idle at a time when they are full of energy and their grey-cell count is at a maximum is a shocking waste.

And in any case, my generation has had it very good for much too long. We bought houses when they were still just about affordable. We had free education and pensions. It's all been jolly nice, and I've enjoyed it a lot. Now is the time to start to pay.

Shifting from old to young would bring down wages and would also solve the executive pay problem in one shot. Almost all the people earning grotesque amounts are over 50 - getting rid of them would mean CEO pay would come thumping down.

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I have tried this idea out on various contemporaries and they all say it's rubbish. They mutter about the "lump of labour fallacy" with a panicky look in their eyes. Then they say think about the loss of experience.

I reply that experience can be overrated; in any case, I'm not advocating giving huge jobs to children, but to those in their 40s, who have 15 or 20 years' experience, which is surely just as good as 30 or even 40.

Skeleton in a tie The job for life is dead

Then they protest that the people at the top are there because they are good, and getting rid of good people is stupid.

This is true up to a point, but there are surely younger people who are good too. Anyway, I might bend the rules to let some ageing superstars - of whom there are very, very few - stay on.

I'm not saying I like the idea. I'm just saying I believe it.

And I'm submitting this as my essay for the prize. I see that the winner gets $10,000. I hope I don't win. Although if I do, I'll need the money.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Quite silly article, perhaps only to stir a bit more disappointment in the public. Have any shares you're looking to buy, Mr whoever-wrote-it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Raising the retirement age will only make the problem worse. Improvements in efficiency and automation mean that we will need fewer workers in the future. To allow young people into the job market, over 50s should be given help to retire earlier - not forced to retire later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    A great idea but unfortunately this govenment doesnt agree, I'm a civil servant and will have to work until im 67 as I cant affort to retire until I get both my private and state pension. Reduce the pensiion age dont keep increasing it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    @281 & 282

    Both very sensible and relevant answers, so why the negative votes? Is central office online early today. I'm 59 and would love to retire but how would I afford to live, there seems to be no logical thinking anymore. Pay me to live and anyone can have my job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    What happens to the 50+ who are culled from the work place?
    This attempts to solve one problem by creating a bigger problem. Younger people will earn less and therefore pay less tax but you increase the population of people to support.

    Why publish such a illthoughtout idea? I certainly see the benefits for journalism though. I hope this author and editor lead by example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    great idea,but the young shouldn't do jobs that we did.

    bild houses,green technology .Don't step into our shameful shoes

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Its the Old story of the young buck bragging to an Old codger ( you know about 50 yrs old) on how he has an ipad, an iphone ,laptops mobile phones the internet and the like, " hey grandad you had nothing in your day " laughingly " I know ...." he replied " we were to busy inventing the ipad, the iphone the laptop.................."

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Everybody have to re-apply for their jobs after 5 years. then companies wouldn't be stuck with 'dead-wood' that the european human rights policies prevent them from dismissing.
    The major benefit of retiring someone from a £60k job is that it allows companies to employ 4 students/apprentices on £15k p.a

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Why should people retire at 50 if they still want to work? There are lots of people who lost their pensions in the crisis a few years ago & cannot afford to retire. Constant pay freezes & pension package changes mean people need longer to save up a decent amount of money to afford to live - look at the recent cuts esp for the elderly. This is not the answer but another excuse re high unemployment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    I'm 41 and have just taken on a 25 year mortgage - Do you think I can retire in 10 or 15 years time ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Its a self fulfilling prophecy -
    When the greedy myopic fools in big business outsource to China etc, to save a few bob & maximise profits, they're directly responsible for destroying their home market and the prole's living standards.
    Source your labour in the UK, components & manufacturing in the UK, may cost a little more, or not so much profit but the rewards will soon show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    And yet we're told we need to work until we're older for pension purposes. Perhaps the author has a huge pension that isolates her from the harsh economic realities that affect millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    As someone said our country is not based on morals it is based on money and you only have to look at the over 50's to see what they have and keep to themselves is selfish society

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    As already mentioned we could reduce working hours which may produce more jobs, or job share even?

    What about re-thinking 'quality of life' i.e. some people just earn too much, it's just not necessary. We could make education for over 50s free, people would benefit from MAs and PhD at a later stage when they have hindsight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    I have been self employed since 1978. I employ two people. Age is irrelevant if attitude is right. Most people would give up work if they could afford to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Since people can't get their pensions until their late 60s now there is no choice but to hang on in there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    'Logans Run' is starting to seem less like a bad 70's sci-fi film, and more like a prophetic documentary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    I was fired from my job at 55. Not only could I not get another as you are deemed to old by most companies and agencies (and I wanted more than shelf stacking) You are regarded as a scrounger for claiming benefits and are unable to claim your pension.The government should realise that they can raise the retirement age as high as they like but companies will not take on anyone over the age of 50.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Unfortunately out of kilter with the Condems, as while they wax lyrical about helping youth employment,they are forcing their own workers (civil servants) to work an extra 7 years, to 67.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    The real problem lies with the heavily skewed economic model the UK works on. The rich crème off the profits from the populace, keeping them on barely sustainable wages to ensure they do keep providing those same profits, I think it’s called capitalism and is lauded and supported by the rich for obvious reasons. The UK needs to radically overhaul the system or see a UK Spring revolution 2022


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