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Jesteś w: Start / Articles / Society / The cultural change within the change of age categorization and hierarchy - ‘youth’ and ‘old age’ in the context of the labour market

The cultural change within the change of age categorization and hierarchy - ‘youth’ and ‘old age’ in the context of the labour market

The ancient Greek culture in its mythology calls the old age ‘the curse of gods’ (‘The Old Age was a daughter of the Night, the goddess of the darkness, granddaughter of the Chaos’, Hezjod, 1999), but Plato in the ‘Laws’ reminds that ‘the elder should rule and the younger obey’, and the Christian Europe based on the biblical patterns knew over the centuries that ‘The grey head is a crown of glory’ (http://www.biblia.poznan.pl/, Prz 16, 31). However the traditional respect for ‘the aged’ and the high social rank of the aged seems to be called into question in the today's Western World. Perhaps we owe this change directly to the sixties and the students who decided to show their significant presence and set matters in motion in 1968. That year is in the west culture a symbolic date, often used to indicate the beginning of specific cultural changes.

Obviously, the process of cultural change has its historical considerations back in time and is spread over a long period of time. Nevertheless, the generation ‘68 desired changes undoubtedly. Perhaps they felt and made use of their natural becoming in order to demonstrate ‘the new’, desired, by dissociating themselves from everything that is ‘old’ and ‘wrong’, in a spectacular and revolutionary but, first of all, symbolic way. The symbolic significance of 1968 includes the subject of events of that period, above all, in the scope of deliberations on the culture understood as establishing and reading meanings – as Daniel Cohn-Bendit said years later, one of the leading figures of ‘May in Paris’ – ‘political power was not the purpose of rebellion sensu stricto. The existential core of this revolt made it completely non-translatable to language of the politics. Desire of freedom brought by the movement for a necessity is out of the archaic styles of the thinking. Traditional political categories were not able to grasp that what was achieved then’ (Cohn Bendit 2008, p. 9).

That, what Cohn-Bendit calls the ‘existential core’ and a desire of freedom of participants in the events of 1968 worldwide, influenced perhaps on the changes of the modern culture. It was a kind of short-tempered desire to establish ‘the new’, demonstrated the way and energy typical of the youth. ‘The Year' 68 influenced, above all, the traditional culture, narrow moralism and the principles of the hierarchical power. It changed the social life, lifestyles, language, sex (Cohn-Bendit 2008, p. 9). When we look at the modern culture and organization of the western societies, one of the many changes characteristic of the second half of 20th century seems to be a change of age hierarchisation, which was mentioned at the beginning of the article. Revolt of ‘68 was a revolt of the student societies but, after all, the French students – participants of May 1968, as far as forming of the generation event was concerned, put stronger emphasis on their young age than the student society (‘We demand liquidation of the university canteens. They should become restaurants for youth, where all young people, students or not, could eat for 1.40 Franc. And nobody can refuse it: if young workers work in the daytime, why wouldn't they have their meal in the evening for 1.40 Franc’) (Cohn-Bendit 2004, p. 56). The participant of the movement of 1968 in Italy, Marcello Flores, the author of the book about 1968, calls the rebellion of those years simply the rebellion ‘against fathers’ – ‘here the generation of sons realizes that the program of their parents is discrediting. It decides – and hopes that it will manage – to act independently, in a new way, above all, cleaning the world from the old order, old culture and social relations ‘(Florres 2008, p. 230).

One may venture a thesis that directly under the influence of the then impulses the evaluation in today's reality seems to proceed differently than in the, preserved over the centuries, pattern deeply rooted in our culture. The cult of youth is characteristic of our contemporary reality. One of the social spaces, where the importance of ‘youth’ in relation to ‘old age’ or even ‘maturity’ has a considerable meaning, is certainly the labour market.

An analysis of the situation of the group of 50+ people shows the elderly people’s attitude towards the labour market. In spite of the low unemployment rate (in relation to the total number of people of this age – according to data collected in the monitoring of the labour market carried out by the GUS (Chief Statistical Office) in the first quarter of 2011, people over 45 constitute only 7.8% of the total population of the unemployed in Poland), on the one hand we can see a phenomenon of early professional deactivation of people of this age, on the other hand – a shortage in job opportunities, which would be adjusted to their qualifications. Furthermore, there are stereotypes and discrimination in favour of younger candidates by employers as well.

The word ageism (from Eng. age – created by analogy with words such as ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’) – means a discrimination and superstitions concerning individuals or social groups against their age. Stereotypical assumptions are made about physical or mental traits of people of a specific age group and are usually expressed in a humiliating way. It mostly regards the elderly (Nicole-Urbanowicz 2006). Ageism is the cultural phenomenon typical of the present, the fruit of cultural changes in the Western World, where the ‘grey head’ is no longer ‘a crown of glory’ (http://www.biblia.poznan.pl/, Prz 16, 31), but a symbol of discredited programs of the fathers (Florres 2008, p. 230).

As the survey of the American group for the public works construction Anchor shows, many young people claim that the elderly should retire and do the place for the younger on the labour market. Every fifth participant of the above survey thinks that the elderly people are less productive and work slower than their younger co-workers. 41% of respondents are the opinion that there is not enough work so that elderly people could continue their professional career, while 5% claims that the pace of work of the elderly is slower, therefore, they should be paid less than other employees (Sikorski 2011).

To sum up, it is worth stressing that the culture has a tendency to search for the harmony by balancing and adjusting trends. The move of 1968 was supposed to balance the existing reality of the conservative societies after the II World War. The events of 1968 had a powerful impact on the shape of the contemporary culture, yet today a deep reflection and the movement in the different directions is noticeable. The initiatives aiming at supporting the elderly people on the labour markets are established and developed. The advantages of such actions are noticed by a large number of corporations. They are launched knowingly to the market by IKEA, Watenfall or Arcelor Mittal (http://regiopraca.pl/portal/rynek-pracy/wiadomosci/pracownicy-45-czesto-sa-lepsi-od-mlodszych). Experts emphasize that employing mature people who have not only a rich professional, but also practical experience introduce more stability into the team.

                                                                                                                          Julia Siemińska



Cohn-Bendit D., Damman R. (2008), Maj'68. Rewolta, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej.

Cohn-Bendit D. (2004), Wyobraźnia przejmuje władzę, rozm. Jean-Paul Sartre (20 May 1968 r.), tłum. Maciej Gdula, „Krytyka Polityczna’, No. 6.

Florres M. (2008), Bez ojców, bez mistrzów, wywiad, rozm. Jarosław Mikołajewski, [w:] Rewolucje 1968, Warszawa: Agora S.A., Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki.

Hezjod z Beocji (1999), Narodziny bogów (Theogonia), Prace i dni, Tarcza, przekł., wstęp i przyp. J. Łanowski, Warszawa: Prószyński i S-ka.

Nicole-Urbanowicz J. (2006), Ageizm i dyskryminacja ze względu na wiek, „Niebieska Linia’ nr 6.



Biblia Tysiąclecia, http://www.biblia.poznan.pl/, data pobrania: 29.08.2011.

Monitoring rynku pracy. Kwartalna informacja o aktywności ekonomicznej ludności, GUS, http://www.stat.gov.pl/cps/rde/xbcr/gus/PUBL_pw_kwart_inf_aktywn_ekonom_ludnosci_1kw_2011.pdf, data pobrania: 29.08.2011.

Pracownicy 45+ często są lepsi od młodszych, http://regiopraca.pl/portal/rynek-pracy/wiadomosci/pracownicy-45-czesto-sa-lepsi-od-mlodszych, data pobrania: 20.08.2011.

Sikorski M. (2011), Starsi pracownicy są dyskryminowani, http://praca.wp.pl/title,Starsi-pracownicy-sa-dyskryminowani,wid,13479939,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=1cefc, data pobrania: 29.08.2011.