Aspects: Youth and Other Old Fallacies; While Older People Are Being Forced out of the Job Market by Youthful Wannabes, Some Senior Citizens Are Getting Accolades. Women's Editor Ros Dodd Tries to Make Sense of the Mixed Messages Being Generated by the Age versus Youth Debate - and Finds the Millennium Is to Blame

Article excerpt

The sales director was apologetic. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we're really looking for someone a bit younger."

The man sitting before him, being interviewed for the job of sales executive, was a few months past his 40th birthday.

Several days later, the same job-hunter picked up the phone to a recruitment agency. "That position you were interviewed for yesterday," intoned the voice at the other end. "Looks like the company went for the younger candidate."

To be considered "over the hill" at 40 when you're a fit, enthusiastic and talented salesman is difficult to stomach. But it seems today's work culture is geared more and more towards youth.

Although some companies such as B&Q have a policy of employing older staf these days youth appears to have more clout than experience or even ability.

Our society pays homage to youth as perhaps never before. Companies look for employees who are bursting with verve, ruthlessness and a willingness to work long hours.

Cary Cooper, a BUPA professor of organisational psychology and health, agrees that the trend at work is for people to be considered "too old" at 50, if not before.

"I think the underlying reason for this is the assumption that maybe young people will be more open to new ideas and more IT literate," he says. "They are viewed as being prepared not just to accept change, but to encourage it, and also to be more robust when it comes to coping with pressure.

"Also, a lot of employers think they can do what they like with young people because they have fewer commitments than older people."

These days, too, increasing emphasis is placed on looking good and oozing sex appeal - and to look good and ooze sex appeal you have to be young and trendy.

Or have you? Last week, veteran Hollywood actor Harrison Ford was voted the sexiest man in the world by America's People magazine - beating contenders less than half his age, including Princess Anne's son, Peter, and Prince William.

Spokeswoman Susan Toepfer said 56-year-old Ford won because he is attractive to women across the generations and a good role model.

"He's been around a long time but has a huge following," she commented. "We thought this year it would be fun to go with the timeless, the classic, a guy who teenagers love because of Star Wars and women all over America love."

A slightly baffled Ford said he thought his success was due to not ever being in vogue.

"I'm like old shoes," he mused. "I've never been hip. I think the reason I'm still here is that I was never enough in fashion that I had to be replaced by something else."

Sir Cliff Richard could also be described as never having been in fashion, but that hasn't stopped radio stations banning his records from the airwaves because at 58 he's deemed too old.

The evergreen singer claims 240 stations, led by Chris Evans's Virgin Radio, refuse to play his latest top ten single, Can't Keep This Feeling In.

Nonetheless, when 90,000 tickets for Sir Cliff's 20 nights of shows at the Royal Albert Hall went on sale last week, they were snapped up in a record 36 hours. …