When a “worker” becomes an “older worker”

Donatienne Desmette (Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain, Belgium)
Mathieu Gaillard (Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain, Belgium)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Publication date: 28 March 2008



The aim of this paper is to investigate the relationship between perceived social identity as an “older worker” and attitudes towards early retirement and commitment to work.


Survey data were obtained from 352 workers aged 50‐59. Hierarchical regression analyses were performed to test the influence of social identity after controlling for demographics, organizational variables and work‐to‐family conflict.


The results show that self‐categorization as an “older worker” is related to negative attitudes towards work (stronger desire to retire early, stronger inclination towards intergenerational competition) while the perception that the organization does not use age as a criterion for distinguishing between workers supports positive attitudes towards work (e.g. higher value placed on work).

Research limitations/implications

This study is cross‐sectional and does not allow conclusions about causality between intergroup processes and attitudes towards works. Future research should develop longitudinal designs to verify that social identity as an “older worker” does induce elders' attitudes at work.


Retirement is usually considered as an individual and opportunistic decision. This research highlights its social dimensions and suggests that managers should pay attention to ageism at work and its potential effects not only on the withdrawal process but also on the quality of life in the workplace.



Desmette, D. and Gaillard, M. (2008), "When a “worker” becomes an “older worker”", Career Development International, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 168-185. https://doi.org/10.1108/13620430810860567

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