Alfred Chan, Chair Professor of Social Gerontology and Director of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, and Cindy Gallop, entrepreneur & advertising consultant; founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn in New York; have come up with an interesting solution.
How old do you have to be to be old?
Cindy Gallop: I hate to say this, but I think, to take an entrepreneur, old is over 30. In the advertising industry old is over 40. And it depends very much on the business world, and I tend to speak from the business’s perspective, because that’s where the judgment is made, most frequently. But it varies by industry and old is often a lot younger, than you’d think it would be.
What is the Eastern attitude to age?
Prof. Chan: The traditional, what you call Eastern attitude, obviously, we don’t have a mark for age at all. It means that you contribute to the society in whatever way as long as you can, including economic production, as well as contributing to family, for example. But unfortunately, these kinds of traditional values have gone through the urbanization and industrialization, which are very much rooted in the Western culture. So, regardless of our traditional values, as long as we are moving into the mode of operation like in the US or in the Western society, I think we are looking at a decline of taking the old age as productive, as it used to be.
In Hong Kong, for example, we are westernized to an extent. And therefore, people are asked to retire at the age of 60. Lately, I think we've been successful in convincing the Government, as well as the business sector, that we should postpone it to 65. But nonetheless, you are seeing that it is very much tired to some chronological age at which you are asked to retire. So, it is a socially constructed concept, if you like, rather than some natural phenomenon.
Are we living longer? What is the age when we get old?
Prof. Chan: I think we are actually living longer and longer. The recent note issued by the WHO (The World Health Organization) says that if you are at the age of 60 and 70, you are in the new middle age, simply because longevity or life expectance is now getting to 90. So, 60 and 70 is really the new middle age. So, I think it all relates to a biological aging as well. I mean, there is a point when your body is taking sort of a relaxed mode, relaxed kind of living style and that is the time you should retire, and that is the time of your age. But, again, as you said, it is different from individual to individual.
Why is it so difficult to get a job when you are over 50?
Cindy Gallop: First of all, there is actually a gender divide here. Unfortunately, women are more disadvantaged than men in this context. Men are perceived as elder statesmen and women are seen as past it. And so, that is definitely an issue for both, but it comes into play much more for women. And I, obviously, as a 55-year-old woman, feel very strongly about this. I think that there undoubtedly is ageism and prejudice in a way that totally bypasses the enormous advantages of actually hiring and working with older people. And so, I speak about this publically a lot. And I do speak about it, because, as I said earlier, there is no substitute for experience. Older people have a breadth and depth of wisdom from which to draw.
Maybe older people have too much experience? In Brave New World Mustapha argues that a man thinks more in his old age. And this means that thought itself, like science, is inherently dangerous. I mean, there is an attitude that we don’t want to employ somebody who’s been around the block 50 times, because they know too much. We’d rather hire somebody who is young, who is ignorant and could be more easily molded.
Cindy Gallop: And that’s actually why the ideal combination is too put those two generations together, particularly in the tech world. I work in MakeLoveNotPorn with a core team of developers who are all in their 20s or 30s. And it is the ideal blend and this is why I said earlier that the corporate hierarchy and structure needs to rethink itself. When you bring together young people with everything they have to contribute, older people with everything they have to contribute and you enable them to work together in a way that hierarchical ranks don’t, then you can really make amazing things happen in the workplace.
As the time approaches, you will be forced to retire. How do you feel about that? What will you do when you have to stop working, professor Chan?
Prof. Chan: I feel, obviously, uncomfortable and disgusted. I absolutely agree with what Cindy’s just said. It could be a very good blending together if we put young people side by side with the older persons’ experience. The two can naturally work really well on the job. Take, for example, a job in the building construction. A young person coming into the industry without realizing all the dangers on the building site, if he works along with an experienced builder, he will definitely be guiding him away from all the risks and dangers. And it is not just saving lives, and industrial accidents pretty often happen on building sites, it also means brick-saving for an investor and public developers too. So, it is a win-win situation if you can do that.
And when we think of it, it wasn’t too long time ago that we adopted an apprentice system. But once we are moving into the so-called employment contracts – a new way of hiring people and firing people – this job share becomes impossible.
I think it is an absolutely fantastic idea. I mean, I want to be employed for the rest of my life as a kind of elderly guru-type of person. And I think the example that you just gave is really cool, because that analogy fits in almost any work type situation.
Cindy Gallop: The key thing there is that you can be a young guru and an old guru. Both ages, both generations have as much to learn from each other.