Social Construction of Older Workers
Today, against the backdrop of the demographic pressures to delay the retirement of older workers, sociologists of aging have begun exploring the impact of national labor market institutions on individual workers’ experiences of aging. Using semi-structured, life story interview data drawn from a sample of 52 male workers in the Tokyo area (born between 1940 and 1953), this dissertation research has contributed to uncovering the ways in which the institution of lifetime employment – the most foundational labor market institution of contemporary Japan – uses age to control individuals’ perceptions and behaviors over the course of their working lives. This dissertation research includes data from pre-mandatory retirement older workers (n=29, aged 55-59) and post-mandatory retirement older workers (n=23, aged 60-68). Based on a social constructionist perspective, this dissertation research has explored three areas of these workers’ experiences of aging over the course of their working lives: (1) perceived instances of being subjected to age discrimination; (2) changes to their attitudes toward these age discrimination experiences; and (3) changes to their self-concepts as workers. A series of thematic data analyses of the interview data, drawn with a life course approach and a grounded theory method, has generated two sets of findings. First, the pre-mandatory retirement experiences of aging of the interview participants (n=52) have contributed to uncovering and describing a social process through which ‘older workers’ are socially constructed within the institutional framework of lifetime employment. Second, the research has found that after mandatory retirement, the post-mandatory retirement workers (n=23) rejected the label of ‘older workers’ and critically viewed lifetime employment as a 'total institution' (Goffman 1961), essentially an institution of social control, harmful to workers in their later working lives. This dissertation research has contributed to the literature by demonstrating that the lifetime employment institution in Japan serves as an intensive age-based social control mechanism that has constructed and reproduced ‘older workers’ in the country’s labor force. Based on the findings of post-mandatory retirement experience of aging, this dissertation research also suggests that the Japanese government should find ways to mitigate the social exclusion, marginalization, and stigmatization that workers experience in their post-mandatory retirement working lives.