Too Old to Work, or Too Young to Retire? The Pervasiveness of Age Norms in Western Europe

published in Work, Employment & Society,  October 2012, vol. 26, no. 5, p. 755-771


Jonas Radl



The ageism debate has pointed to the persistence of negative age stereotypes that hinder the prolongation of working lives. However, the actual holders of discriminatory norms have remained largely anonymous because there is limited understanding of the pervasiveness of age norms. This article discusses arguments derived from life course and social norms theory regarding the degree of internalisation of age-related norms. The focus is on individual differences in terms of social class and gender. Using 2006 data from the European Social Survey, the article gathers empirical evidence on attitudes towards the timing of retirement in 14 Western European societies. A set of tobit models examines the determinants of retirement age norms for men and women. The results suggest that social class has a strong impact on retirement age norms. Moreover, the analysis reveals a complex pattern of gendered norms concerning the timing of retirement.

Keywords: Ageism, Class, Europe, Gender, Life Course, Retirement Age, Social Norms, Work Orientations.