Small Retailer Hiring of Older Persons: An Assessment

By Peterson, Robin T. | Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Small Retailer Hiring of Older Persons: An Assessment


Peterson, Robin T., Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal


INTRODUCTION

The last few decades have witnessed a dramatic aging of the population in most developed and some developing economies (Henderson, 1998). The mean age of individuals comprising the population in the United States has advanced, particularly as a result of large numbers in the baby boom population (U.S. Bureau, 1998). In particular, the post-65 senior citizen grouping has expanded at a rapid pace. Improved eating habits, exercise programs, and medical care have created a pattern marked by numerous older persons, many with mental and physical health statures that are far improved over their predecessors (Thackray, 1994). And a large proportion of this grouping prefers to continue working past the customary retirement ages, either on a full or part time basis (Flynn, 1995). This movement reverses earlier trends toward earlier retirement ages, which began in the 1980's (Costa, 1998). The 1990's have witnessed larger percentages of older and more experienced individuals in the work force than was the case for previous decades (Landry, 1999). Research indicates that 15% of the population over the age of 65 are working either full or part time (Leonard, 1999).

During periods of low unemployment, such as the late 1990's, numerous small retailers encounter a scarcity of qualified job applicants They may find it difficult to acquire the personnel which they seek, particularly if essential skills are in high demand. A solution to this problem may lie in the direction of employing older persons, some of which are already in the ranks of the retired.

Some managers of small retail units do not hire seniors, at least not to any substantial degree. In fact, a commonplace development is when management reduces the size of the workforce to become more competitive, older workers are often targeted for layoff or firing (Pave, 1991). Cultural norms in the United States may be responsible for the tendency to target younger workers. Many employers appear to hold the view that these individuals are superior potential employees (Zemke, 1999). They may assume that older people are too old to train, unlikely to stay long enough to justify the investment in them, and more inclined to short-term absence (Worsley, 1996). Research has demonstrated potential age-related bias in the U.S. culture. In one study younger raters tended to give less favorable ratings to older workers when they were not provided with job-relevant information about the workers and when they concurrently rated old and young workers (Burke, Finkelstein & Raju, 1995).

Some small retail managers may not employ seniors because of beliefs that these persons are not as capable as their younger counterparts. According to one source, employers have concerns that older workers cost more, suffer more frequent and more severe illness, cannot learn new skills, and are less productive (Kaeter, 1995). Another source reports that reservations for hiring older managers were overqualified, too old, unfamiliarity with industry, unemployed for more than six months, and changing job functions (Top Five, 1998). There are other possible reasons for not hiring the elderly. Medical and insurance costs may be perceived as excessive. Some potential employees may not have needed computer skills. Others may be perceived as not being physically or mentally capable of fulfilling their responsibilities (Barber, 1998).

There is evidence that older workers can be very productive members of the work force. One study examined the earnings and the productivity of workers in various age groups. It found that workers age 55 and older received higher earnings than younger workers but that this larger level of earnings was more than counterbalanced by larger productivity (as measured in marginal products (Hellerstein, Neumark & Troske, 1999).

Another inquiry surveyed398 employers on their perceptions of employees of various ages, on 12 attributes. …

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