Cultural lag at Sweden's workplaces

Date of publication: June 15, 1989


In the early decades of this century it was not uncommon for someone to be worn out by 50 after a lifetime of hard labor. The notion that the age of 50 is a marker separating the productive from the less productive worker lingers on in many quarters - even though today's typical 50-year-old is commonly better educated, enjoys better health, and is more open to new ideas than his or her counterpart in previous decades. There often exists a cultural lag between outdated preconceptions and reality. The lag is cultural because it derives from the conservatism of our culturally encoded habits of thinking. It is difficult to rethink our assumptions about age categories, as about other assumptions that seem axiomatic. But as Sweden's work force ages and young workers become in short supply in the '90s, Swedish employers cannot afford to conserve stereotypes that obscure the resource offered by employees who are 50-plus. This paper examines the fit or lack of fit between conventional attitudes toward the middle-aged worker and the worker's own views and experiences. It presents the findings of seven face-to-face nationwide surveys that SIFO The Swedish Institute for Opinion Research conducted in 1988 as well as results from in-depth interviews carried out by the writer at numerous work- places in Sweden. The findings clearly indicate a need for a fresh look at the 50-plus employee and recognition of the hidden asset he represents.

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