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Professors: Age discrimination in Finnish job market is real but unnecessary

Yle recently spoke with two Finnish professors about age discrimination. They were asked why people over the age of 50 are often considered to be past their "best-by" dates on the employment market, while at the same time most world leaders ascend to positions of great power when they're 60 years old - or older?

Sauli Niinistö ja Vladimir Putin
Finnish president Sauli Niinistö is 68, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is 64 years old. Image: Mikhail Metzel / TASS / AOP

Yle spoke with labour law professor at the University of Turku Seppo Koskinen and University of Tampere professor of public health Clas-Håkan Nygård about age discrimination.

During the interview, the topic of the presidential elections in the United States came up. Numerically, the two front-running candidates have both been senior citizens for years already, but they're still vying for the most important job in the country.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just turned 69, while Donald Trump is 70.

Similarly, Finnish president Sauli Niinistö is 68 and if re-elected in 2017, he'd be 75 years old once his second term ends.

But Koskinen says he doesn't think that 50 to 60 year-olds are past their prime.

"They're competent, experienced and able people," he says. "It's just now there's a wrong mindset among some employers [that they're not]."

Nygård says there is a perception that everyone ages in the same way and at the same pace, and once a person has reached a certain age suddenly they're not fit to work.

"Differences between individuals get bigger the older they get," Nygård says.

Women's "neutral age" around 35-37 years old

Both of the professors say that age discrimination is common in the Finnish employment market.

Often it's the very young who are discriminated against, but overwhelmingly workplace discrimination happens to older people, the professors say, adding that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when workers begin to be considered by employers to be "too old" to work.

"For women the so-called neutral years are between 35 and 37, according to employment protection groups," Koskinen says. "At that age women aren't considered to 'too young,' but at the same time they don't face old age discrimination."

The professors say that age discrimination of employees and prospective employees starts around the age of 50.

"When companies want to cut jobs, often it's older workers that are chosen first, even though there's no proof at all that they don't do good work even if they're over 60," Nygård says.

The professors also agree that many 70-year-old people would do just fine in the workplace, which is a good sign since the retirement age in Finland is gradually being nudged upwards to that age.

"Attitudes are difficult to change, we don't value enough the skills that older people possess," Nygård says.

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