Date of Award

9-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

Dr. Carolyn J. Rosenthal

Abstract

Given the aging of the Canadian workforce and the trend for unemployed older workers (aged 45 to 65) to take considerably longer than younger ones to become re-employed, the purpose of this dissertation is to examine the importance of age in the job search process, how age influences identity when searching for work, and the management techniques used by older workers to obtain employment. There is little qualitative research generated in a Canadian context that examines the views of older workers themselves. Thus, this research uses qualitative methodologies (i.e. 30 semi-structured interviews supplemented by 35 hours of participant observation) and an interactionist framework, to contribute new insights into older workers' job search process. Findings indicate that study participants feel employers discriminate against them in the hiring process through both subtle and overt mechanisms related to employers' ageist stereotypes concerning skills, training, adaptability or flexibility, and financial costs. Respondents believe that employers use specific wording in job advertisements, choose candidates to interview by assessing age in applicants' resumes, further assess age in the interview setting, and use an ageist discourse. With respect to the impact of age on identity in the job search process, the ata suggest that once participants perceive they have been labelled "old" by others (i.e. potential employers and personnel at older worker programs) they begin to define themselves as "old" and become susceptible to identity degradation. These findings highlight the paradoxical nature of the job search process-Individuals go to older worker programs for assistance, yet some of the experiences encountered during attendance at these programs mirrored many experiences encountered with discriminatory employers. Despite this occurrence, most who experience identity degradation are able to successfully negotiate their identities by drawing on social support, attending older worker programs, changing their identities, maintaining their key roles, and altering their overall mental outlook. Finally, in an attempt to avoid being considered "old" when searching for work, respondents develop "counteractions" and "concealments". These age-related management techniques are believed to counteract employers' ageist stereotypes by maintaining skills and changing work-related expectations, and conceal age by altering resumes, physical appearance, and language. Overall, this dissertation advances the knowledge within the sociology of aging and work by using the richness of study participants' accounts to conceptualize the meaning and import of age in the job search process. Conclusions are drawn in relation to improving policies and practices that govern employers' behaviours in order to remove the structural barriers from older workers' route to re-employment.

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