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The Truth About Older Workers

older workers

If you’ve started spotting gray hairs or crow’s feet, or are well beyond that time, you might be worrying that your best working years are behind you.

It’s easy to buy into negative ideas about older workers, and the media’s fixation on Millennial entrepreneurs doesn’t help. But are the stereotypes of slower, less innovative older employees true?

Not according to the much of the research. Harvey Sterns, director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron, told the Wall Street Journal that the majority of academic studies finds “virtually no relationship between age and job performance.”

In fact, in some areas older workers outperform their younger peers. Two arenas in which older may be better, according to Anne Tergesen’s article:

Older Workers Make Fewer Errors…and Bring More to the Table

After examining the number and severity of errors of 3,800 assembly line workers at Mercedes-Benz, economists at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich found that the older workers committed slightly fewer severe errors.

Older workers have a leg up over their younger coworkers. “Sell yourself because of your experience, not just your age” said Susan Bernstein, an IvyExec Career Coach. If you are looking for a new career opportunity, “look for companies where your experience is really welcome…that would be so happy to have you.” Such places do exist! With all the young and hip start-ups coming out of the woodwork, you have great opportunities to offer insights and experiences to the entrepreneurs who have not ‘been there and done that.’ To find such organizations, Bernstein advises looking for companies that are rated as best to work for, and are very open to diversity.

Older Workers Can Be More Creative

Grandma Moses started painting in her 70s, and plenty of other artists did some of their best work in their later years. Some research supports the idea that certain kinds of creativity—such as that which leads to breakthroughs in mathematics or physics—peaks when people are in their 20s. In other areas, however, creativity seems to expand after midlife. After examining the work of 300 artists, David Galenson, a professor at the University of Chicago, found that conceptual artists peaked by their 30s, but experimental artists improved over time as they became more experienced.

For many people over 45 or 50, those findings ring very true. They may offer cold comfort to those experiencing discrimination on the job or when trying to get one, but it’s nice confidence boost that can help you overcome those stereotypes.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.