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”

End Quote

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 450.

    The writer makes a very valid point. Many contributors here are making offensive remarks about the younger generation and don't seem to realise that they have very different life experiences to the over 50s. I worked past retirement age but then stepped aside (onto a very modest pension) as I felt guilty that I was stopping someone who desperately needed a job from having one. It worked for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Funny how people moan about about ageism then go on to slur young people saying they are lazy, unenergetic, know-it-alls who are tatooed and scruffy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    Having seen the rapid decline in the state of mind of my parents since retiring ,I don't think anyone should be forced to retire against their will. Work, even volunteer work, keeps people mentally and physically active. Its stress that kills people in this day and age, not work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    I am rather over 50 and need work to live. Having spent my younger days doing voluntary work and locally paid work overseas I had hoped to have work in this country before retirement to put something in the bank due to the overseas work having no pension. I am not looking for high paid CEO work, just something to keep me above the bread line. I find £300 per month basic pension does not go far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    When I retired I considered a part time job, preferably in the local bookshop. Then I thought..I don't need the money and there are younger people, students or women with children at school and mortgages to pay who need the job more than I do. So I found other ways to keep occupied.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    I tried to make a defence of this article but really this article is as best pointless. It assumes we must have ten years of unemplyment, that wage reduction is a good thing and it ignores a plethora of socio-economic consequences of the idea. I assume nothing more important is happening in the world so the BBC have published an example of weak logic for our amusment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    If we want people over a certain age to retire from what they are paid to do for the good of society, then we need to pay them a decent (if modest) state pension to do so - and those with a reasonable income need to to pay tax to support this.

    We also need to accept that, for the forseeable future, there are far more people of working age than jobs and there will be long term unemployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    A simple answer is job sharing. A friend of mine (age 52) works Mon - Wed and a colleague in their 20's works Wed - Fri. My friend can't afford to retire completely now but his days will reduce further over time.

    I think this is a win-win and it's about time the government brought in some tax incentives to encourage it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    And just how do over 50's pay their bills if they resign, and what exactly do they do for the greater part of their independant life!.

    John Turpin

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Ageist rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    Create some real jobs for the younger ones, by bringing back manufacturing in this country. The trouble is the education system and parents have over protected this generation too much and I am not sure many have the right skills to do real work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    The lack of employment opportunities for under 30s is a scandal.
    That scandal is not the result of people working all their lives.
    Nor is it down to the myth of youth fecklessness.
    It is the result of successive governmental strategies that had short-termism and electoral 'popularity' at their heart.
    What needs dealing with is the disease, the symptoms will then take care of themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    I would love to retire now (53). I had no intention or working until I die (which seems to go gains government findings) but my plan to retire at 50 - 55 is in tatters due to changes in the pension laws over the years and the banks collapsing. My investments are worth the same as they were 12 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    We will look back at stories like this with some curiosity in the not too distant future! As Europe's population ages and more people retire (regardless of legislation) we simply won't have enough young people to do the jobs required. Forget the 'lost generation' it will be a case of begging older people not to resign. Mark my words - this will happen

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    How about we accept that not everyone is born with equal abilities & stop pushing kids into uni, leaving them with unrealistic expectations of earnings. There are jobs (not enough for everyone & not in every area) but not the sort kids have been led to believe they deserve. Employers, stop asking for a degree to work in a shop, use the over 50's you have to train the new intake on the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    What`s surprising about this shallow piece is the writer has managed to get a job with the BBC. We need viable solutions that work, not cheap headline grabbing articles. Young people need jobs, but society cannot afford to handout pensions that last over 25 years. New kinds of jobs need to be created for the over 65s and under 25s that make them an integral and meaningful part of the workforce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    I fins some of the comments from 50-something workers attacking 20-something job seekers as 'lazy', 'ill-mannered', 'poorly educated' etc staggering.

    Not only does this display the same level of ageist stereotyping they complain about themselves, but they're talking about the generation they brought into the world. You made them this way, you take the blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    The writer seems a bit naive and draws on a limited pie, limited good philosophy and assumes this is not a dynamic system.

    Encourage more creativity in education. Encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs, who create more jobs. Allow the creative and ambitious room to use their gifts and skills through incentives and sensible policies. Break up the entrenched 'quiet' monopolies.

  • Comment number 432.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    50 years ago (ironically) this would have been a sensible suggestion. However, in this age of rising pension ages, lower overall pension payments, and increasing living costs even it's suggestion shows someone that is completely out of touch with modern living. In an ideal world, it might work, but - as has been proven on many occasions - we don't live in an ideal world...


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