Age, Gender and the Rhetoric of the 'New Career'


  • Deborah Jones Victoria University Wellington
  • Sarah Proctor-Thomson Lancaster University



In this paper we compare the career experiences of women, as described in a small qualitative study of older women managers, with the rhetoric of the 'new career'. In this rhetoric, workers now have the freedom to constantly re-invent themselves by choosing from a range of possible career paths. In opposition to this claim, critics argue that only a small privileged group of workers have this experience of freedom, ' because various groups within the labour market have differential access to this 'new career', depending on factors like gender, ethnicity and location. In relation to age, many researchers find that the later stages of most 'careers ' are now haunted by narrowing choices. We critically consider claims about the 'new career' model in relation to older women's work opportunities. We first introduce issues arising from a study of the careers of 20 women managers aged 40 and over who were involved in mid-life management education. In their accounts, they strongly denied that they saw themselves as any less competent as they aged, while commenting that they believed that others saw them as less competent. This age effect was frequently seen as intertwined with gender effects. The women discussed a range of strategies that they used to 'ageproof' themselves and so protect their careers by masking signs of age. We then put their accounts in the macro context of the New Zealand labour market, asking: What evidence is there that older women are disadvantaged in the job market? And what evidence is there that further education offsets this disadvantage? We also set out to identify gaps in the current data, and to suggest useful areas for future research.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Deborah Jones, Victoria University Wellington

Victoria School of Management

Sarah Proctor-Thomson, Lancaster University

Institute for Women's Studies