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The ’35 Curse’: In China, Millennials Are Already Too Old for Some Employers | cnn

Hong Kong

When Han lost her job as a UI designer in Beijing In February, he thought his 10 years of experience meant he wouldn’t have to search long for alternative work.

But with the job search dragging on, he’s starting to worry. She has submitted hundreds of job applications and has only been invited to four interviews.

With no options in her chosen profession, she resorted to part-time jobs to make ends meet, working as a food delivery driver, where she was “lucky to earn 20 yuan ($2.8)” a day, and as a guide. Shopping. the one she gave up after developing acute appendicitis, she says, from being on her feet too long.

“I tried every possible job, but they used too much energy or paid too little,” he said. “It seems that it is difficult to maintain a basic life every day.”

She believes that the root of Han’s problem is that he has simply gotten too old in the eyes of many potential employers. She is 34 years old.

Han, who CNN identifies only by his last name due to privacy concerns, is among the many millennial workers in Porcelain who fear they have succumbed to the “curse of 35”.

The term was originally coined on social media to describe rumors of layoffs of older workers by major tech companies, but has since become so widespread that even advisers to China’s ruling Communist Party mention it.

Anyone who doubts the power of the curse need only look at the countless online job postings and recruitment sites that explicitly state that candidates must not be older than that age, which many experts don’t even consider middle-aged.

Or search on social media; In June, a traveler’s complaint that hostels in Beijing commonly turn away clients over the age of 35 sparked heated debate, as did a recruitment drive by a Taoist temple in June when it said new monks must have ” less than 35 years”.

In fact, even the Chinese government rules out candidates over the age of 35 for many of his civil servant positions – a policy challenged by a lawmaker at the annual meeting of China’s parliament and top political advisory body last year.

“Invisible age discrimination for 35-year-olds has always existed in the workplace,” lawmaker Jiang Shengnan said at the meeting, the government reported. China Youth Journal. “It’s a huge waste of talent to turn down candidates their age.”

Even top academics and officials have recognized the problem. In a 2022 report According to the state-run People’s Daily newspaper, a teacher at the government-run Central Party School, which educates Chinese Communist Party cadres, called the curse a “common phenomenon in the mass labor market” and blamed it. of causing widespread public anxiety. .

This year, the state news agency Xinhua proposed what he saw as a possible solution: special policies favoring workers over 35, along with financial assistance and anti-age discrimination regulations.

For many among the Chinese For hundreds of millions of millennials, solutions can’t come fast enough. As China continues to struggle to recover from the economic damage In the wake of the pandemic and signs that its growth is slowing, unemployment has become a pressing concern for many. Nationwide, the official unemployment rate rose to a near-record 6.1% last year, and while the end of lockdowns brought some relief, it remains at 5.2%.

The issue has come to the fore in part because of the rise of China’s tech industry and its notorious “Culture 996” – working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

It’s an inflexible schedule that’s even more difficult for older employees with families to accommodate, but it’s a common expectation in The country is highly competitive. (and relatively young) tech sector.

Experts also point out that young workers hired straight out of school tend to be cheaper, though others suggest the preference isn’t just about keeping expenses down.

A 2021 Xinhua report reasoned that employees who had not been promoted to managerial levels by age 35 may be perceived as less successful and therefore more susceptible to layoffs.

The professor at the Central Party School raised this point in your report last year, saying: “Generally speaking, most employees with 10 years of experience will become leaders or team leaders if their skills are really good. In other words, the ’35-year threshold’ is not about age per se, but a measure of employers’ ability to work.”

But these limits mean that many people find themselves like Han, the Beijing resident: overqualified, educated, experienced and struggling to stay afloat with gigs.

This is especially true as more and more people pursue master’s and doctoral studies in the hope of gaining an advantage in the marketplace. crowded job market – thus, ironically, delaying their entry into the old job market.

Content creator Tao Chen in a video posted on Chinese social media.

One content creator, Tao Chen, gained national attention in March after posting about his experience online. After graduating from the prestigious Sichuan University with a master’s degree in philosophy, he was laid off from his journalism job and then embarked on a series of failed business ventures. At 38, with few prospects, he became a food delivery man and eventually gave up that job too because the income was not enough to make ends meet.

“Although I had very good work experience and a master’s degree, I am really uncompetitive after 35 years old,” Tao Chen said in his Douyin video. More than 98% of his job applications went unanswered, while the rest deemed him “unsuitable” for the position.

“I almost had a mental breakdown,” he said.

For many Chinese women, the “curse” builds on and further exacerbates the entrenched gender discrimination that has long plagued the workplace.

Workers in this age range often say that face pressure from employers Reluctant to pay maternity leave. They report missing out on promotions because their employer fears they will take a long period of leave, or worse, they may not get a job in the first place.

“At this age, many companies are not willing to hire you,” said Han, the Beijing resident. “They prefer young people. After all, I could get married and have children in his eyes. Even if I tell them I have no intention of getting married, they wouldn’t believe it.”

When Liu, a 35-year-old Shenzhen resident, returned to her job at a bioengineering company after a six-month maternity leave, she hoped to join a new project. Instead, she said, she was abruptly fired and her position was given to a recent graduate.

Months later, he still hasn’t found another job. Liu, who applied for a pseudonym for privacy reasons, believes it was his maternity leave that led to his dismissal.

“They are very realistic. When I don’t need you, I replace you with cheaper labor,” she said.

Men can also be affected. Liu recalls witnessing a colleague who had just become her father being assigned what she called inappropriate tasks, such as being sent on a business trip immediately after her birth.

He said he had also seen millennial and middle-aged employees singled out for shaming by being asked to raise their hands in meetings if they were over 30 or by not being invited to company parties.

Liu suspects that the biggest motivation for employers is simply their bottom line. “Many companies look at profitability,” Liu said. “They think my salary is higher than the new graduates, so they prefer to choose the graduates.”

Experts say the best way to protect yourself against ageism and gender inequality is through legal reform.

Yiran Zhang, an assistant professor at Cornell Law School, said that while China’s employment law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and religious belief, it does not on the basis of age.

And even in areas where some protection was offered – such as for mothers taking maternity leave – law enforcement is weak and gender discrimination remains common, she said.

Employees who successfully sue their employer may receive only a small amount, which discourages some from taking legal action, Zhang added.

Students and graduates at a university employment and internship fair in Suqian, China, on August 9, 2023.

“Much of age discrimination is intersectional: discrimination based on age, gender, pregnancy, and duties of care,” said the assistant professor.

Zhang and other experts noted that there have been attempts to legislate against age discrimination in the past, and some politicians saw it as a priority to lift the falling birth rate, but they have so far failed to pass parliament.

Some small progress was made earlier this year, when several provinces and regions relaxed age restrictions for civil servant positions, raising the limit from 35 to 40 years. state media reported.

Meanwhile, Liu, a former project manager in Shenzhen, now hopes to make a living as a content creator so she doesn’t have to return to a traditional workplace rife with ageism and discrimination.

“I’ve been in both big and small companies and I can see their tricks,” he said. “I just want to run away from there.”

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