Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Women and Aging: Expensive No Matter What!

Here's another article I enjoyed from last Thursday's Times:

Nice Résumé. Have You Considered Botox?

We women just can't get a break sometimes. According to this article, if you let yourself age naturally, it will cost you money because you'll be passed over for jobs. If you combat aging with surgery, lotions, injections, etc., that will cost you money too! You can also spend $25.99 (or $14.29 at Amazon) on this book by Charla Krupp called "How Not to Look Old:"

The book is the latest makeover title to treat the aging of one’s exterior as a disease whose symptoms are to be fought to the death or, at least, mightily camouflaged. But the book offers a serious rationale for such vigilant attempts at age control, arguing that trying to pass for younger is not so much a matter of sexual allure as of job security.

“Looking hip is not just about vanity anymore, it’s critical to every woman’s personal and financial survival,” according to the book jacket.

Promoted recently on Oprah Winfrey’s show and “Today,” the book clearly speaks to the fears of professional obsolescence and economic vulnerability among women over 40, at whom it is aimed. “How Not to Look Old” made its debut on the New York Times best-seller list last week at No. 8 in the advice and how-to category.

Ok, on a gut level, this is nothing new to most people, but the article mentions a study that puts it in concrete terms:

In one study on hiring practices, for example, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology applied to entry-level jobs in Boston and St. Petersburg, Fla., by sending out 4,000 résumés as a female job applicant; the résumés varied the year of high school graduation, which dated the job seeker as being from 35 to 62.
The study, published in 2005 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, found that younger women were 40 percent more likely to receive an offer of a job interview than women over 50; a woman over 50 in Boston would have to send in 27 résumés just to get one job interview, where a younger woman would have to send in only 19, the study said.
“Seeming young can definitely help your economic status, and that pays the rent,” said Joanna N. Lahey, the author of the study, who is now an assistant professor of public policy at Texas A & M.

Given that the jobs applied to were "entry level," the age discrimination might have involved a fear that the older applicant would be more likely to want more money or not stay in the job very long. Also, the study doesn't prove anything one way or the other about how LOOKING old affects your employability since the candidates were judged on their resume and the age it implied, not their face-to-face appearance. Who knows, maybe a thin, attractive and well-dressed older woman with grey hair and a few wrinkles would be more frequently offered a job than a younger woman who was un-stylish, overweight, and ugly.
But also, you have to remember how this plays out with men: older men are just more likely to be considered "attractive" than older women, and even if they aren't considered particularly "attractive" it doesn't seem to be as big a detriment to their careers. Look at all the major political figures we see in the news lately: there's no accounting for tastes, but Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, John Edwards-- all those guys would be generally seen as "attractive," I'm sure. John McCain? Rudy Giuliani? Dennis Kucinich? Mike Huckabee (at any weight)? Now you're talking about guys who are not that cute. But what about the women who are national figures? Nancy Pelosi? Condoleezza Rice? Maybe not everyone would agree, but I would say they are much higher on the attractiveness scale, and Hillary Clinton looks pretty good these days, even if she is never going to be considered a great beauty and has been the butt of way too much criticism over her earlier fashion mistakes. It's not like attractiveness is 100% necessary to succeed in politics, but something tells me that if we ever have a woman president, she will be well above average in terms of her appearance!

The article acknowledges the notion that it might be politically uncorrect, to say the least, to play along with any of our society's prejudices about appearance instead of working to change them:

Many people would shun a book if it were titled “How Not to Look Jewish” or “How Not to Look Gay” because to cater to discrimination is to capitulate to it. But the success of “How Not to Look Old” indicates that popular culture is willing to buy into ageism as an acceptable form of prejudice, even against oneself.

Even women who would probably identify themselves as feminists put a value on appearance and youthfulness, while trying to say it shouldn't be a basis for discrimination:

[Faye] Wattleton, 64, described people’s outward aging and their decisions to ameliorate it as personal choices that others should not judge.

“Being a person who has had plastic surgery and goes to the gym five days a week to work my muscles up so they don’t look atrophied as a 6o-year-old, I don’t disparage people who want to maintain their appearance,” said Ms. Wattleton, a former director of Planned Parenthood. “But what I don’t want is a society that tells me I have to.”

Ms. Krupp argues that economic pressures require most women to adopt age-management techniques. As her book puts it: we cannot afford to let ourselves go!

“What are we going to do if we have to enter the work force at a ripe old age?” Ms. Krupp said last week. “Out of necessity, you can disguise the age you are by looking younger, hipper and fresher.”

She added that Americans of one class, religion or ethnicity have often tried on other identities if they appeared to confer some professional or economic advantage.

“There was a book on how not to look Jewish,” Ms. Krupp said. “It was called ‘The Preppy Handbook’ and it was a best seller.”

Yeow! Of course that book would not have been a best seller under a more blatant title...

But back to the age thing, frankly, I think there is a lot more to this issue than wanting to be employed, or how society discriminates. We all want to look young and feel young so we can believe we are that much further away from dying! And perhaps, further away from having to start tapping into our retirement accounts...


Chiot's Run said...

I personally think women look "weird" when they get plastic surgery and try to look younger. I get the feeling they're insecure in who they are so they need to make up for something.

I think there's a big difference between aging gracefuly and trying not to look "old".

Maybe some older women don't get jobs because they're insecure about their age which will come across as insecurity and not being qualified than being old. So maybe it's not age after all, it's the mindset.

Noel Larson said...

"a few wrinkles would be more frequently offered a job than a younger woman who was un-stylish, overweight, and ugly"

THIS is the reason I love this blog! Brutal honesty :)

Anonymous said...

Certainly in classical singing ageism is rampant. You must be young in order to get certain kinds of work. Almost all competitions (yes, we have them, too) have upper limits of 30 years old or younger, and sometimes less for women. This leads to a lot of lying on resumés, and expensive beauty regimens to back up the lies. If your voice matures late (hello), you're going to have to work much, much harder to be heard.

Since I took this lovely job, where, bless 'em, looking my age is actually a plus, I don't have to worry about it so much any more. But in ten to fifteen years I will have to retire, and it seems unlikely that I'll have enough money in the bank to stop working. So it will be back into the job market, and back to Ricky's.

I am very secure in my ability to do whatever needs to be done, but the appearance of age can keep me from getting the chance to show it.

L. Marie Joseph said...

I hope to not have to face job interviews after 40 years old. I am working my butt off now to have my own company by then. Therefore I would not have to deal with the politics of becoming older

VixenOnABudget said...

I'm taking a class on Gender Roles in Society right now and am rather eager to bring this to my professor's attention. We are constantly talking about the way gender, sexuality and appearance affect the way you are treated in society.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, ageism is very rampant in this job market. I've tried not to believe it. I'm over 50 and get botox and injectables to stay looking young. It is pricey, but feel it is necessary. Last year I went on over 10 job interviews, with each one - comments were " your resume is very impressive", but I was never a final candidate. My interviewers were all between 30-40 years old and I could tell that they were skeptical, regardless of my skills.
I interviewed very well, even hired a career coach, who validated my interviewing skills. I finally realized how my age was affecting my ability to get hired when my 25 year old daughter with a college degree and a limited resume went on 2 job interviews and was offered both jobs. I recently became unemployed after working for a company where the average age is 30 years old. My direct boss,has no management skills, no college education and is only 22 years old. She is overseeing an entire region. Go figure that one!!! Anyway, since I am not a puppet and have a voice, together with several co-workers in my region we had several issues that were concerning to us and decided collectively to contact upper management. Because I was the "oldest" I was given the task of developing a letter with key points for everyone to sign. Guess what???
I got singled out for this and terminated. None of the younger girls were penalized, but because I had a voice and was not a puppet, my boss felt she could not control me by bullying me as she does her other team members. This is a classic example of age discrimination!!! So once again, I am faced with sending out resumes and going on interviews. However, this time, I will approach it differently and be very clear up front that if the organization is looking for a dynamic professional, with experience and a track record that I am their candidate, but if my "maturity" does not fit into their culture regardless of talent, then lets not waste each other's time. I know age can not be brought up by the hiring manager- but I intend to be more direct and assertive than the last time. Women over 45 or 50 are NOT WASHED UP!! We have lots to offer; look and act younger than are parents did at this age.
It's awful that I feel prior to any interview, I need to get my Botox and or filler fix.!!!

Anonymous said...

Please don't put "ugly" and "overweight" in the same sentence, or you too are reinforcing an age-old prejudice!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... the choice of words made me chuckle: "Hillary Clinton looks pretty good these days, even if she is never going to be considered a great beauty and has been the butt of way too much criticism over her earlier fashion mistakes." The bottom-line is that's the part that most 'image' conscious observers joke about.

Madame X said...

Anon 2:47, all overweight people are not ugly and all ugly people are not overweight, but nor are all overweight people beautiful, or all beautiful people thin.
My sentence involved a series of 3 separate traits that might happen to coincide in one person, as in "He was overweight, badly dressed, and wealthy," "She was blond, smart, and obese," or "It was purple, hairy, and tasted like chocolate!"

And thanks all, for sharing stories about your own age discrimination experiences and fears!

MEG said...

Ageism is definitely a real issue for both genders, but especially for women of course.

On a related note, I really worry about all the women who quit their jobs to have children and just assume without even thinking about it that they'll be able to hop back into the workforce in 5 or 10 years. Studies show even one year out of the workforce makes it really difficult to elbow your way back in.

It's hard enough to stay relevant if you're an aging woman with a great, uniterrupted resume. Scary if you don't even have that. My aunt just got divorced and is finding herself having to get a job after 20 years without one. She looks really good for her age and is around 45, but she finally had to take a job for less than $40,000 a year at a non-profit...

Andrew Stevens said...

It's not like attractiveness is 100% necessary to succeed in politics, but something tells me that if we ever have a woman president, she will be well above average in terms of her appearance!

Two words: Margaret Thatcher. Bella Abzug was an old battleaxe and was elected to the House for three terms in New York. Attractiveness helps for both men and women. We are all of us more inclined to judge attractive people favorably. That's just a fact. But it can be overcome if you've got other qualities which compensate.

I'm also not convinced that women face more age discrimination than men, though I do not deny that both genders face age discrimination.

Anonymous said...

MEG: about your aunt, if she lacks much workplace experience and/or an advanced degree, then perhaps this was due to lack of experience/credentials and because of her age.

Anonymous said...

Oops,about Meg's aunt: I meant it was NOT due to her age...

Anonymous said...

Looking TOO young isn't good either. I'm in an executive level job for a large municipality at the age of 28 (I have 2 BAs, 1 MA, plus 7 years professional experience) but look very young, even younger than my years. My judgment is questioned by people who react to my young looks, I am constantly the butt of jokes ("...blah, blah, blah, 'Happy Days.' Were you even born when that show was on?!? ha ha!"), and I have to be twice as good to have my voice heard in many situations. Not to take away from others' experiences, just to put another perspective out there!

Madame X said...

Andrew-- re. Margaret Thatcher and BElla Abzug, I wonder if either would have come to power as easily today. 70s/80s Britain, and even America, were a lot less perfectionist about appearance, I think.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Susy. Women can look weird if they have plastic surgery and if people can tell you've had plastic surgery it does raise the question about your sense of self assurance. Everyone wants to look good and even looking good isn't insurance you'll keep your job, but discriminating for not being hip is a problem and leads to further discrimation for other things.

Thanks for the post.


Lady Madonna said...

Imagine a book called "How Not to Look Black" by anyone other than Michael Jackson.

All women over 40 MUST read "I Feel Bad About My Neck" by Nora Ephron. A number of the essays are about women and aging.

I am a woman in my early 50's and work in a technical field--lots of younger people, more men than women. I feel compelled to dye my hair to hide the gray, but, like Faye Wattleton, I wish our society didn't think I had to look young. Most of the older men at work don't dye their gray hair.

What would people have thought about Sarah Palin if she'd been 60, fat and un-pretty?