Sunday 29 October 2023

Curse of 35 | Does your career end when you reach age 35?

When I first entered the workforce, I never thought that there would be a time where I might become redundant or I might have been building up the wrong skills since I was fresh out of university and soaking up on the job knowledge and information like never before.

Fast forward 5 years, hurt by the corporate world after seeing the retrenchment and redundancy exercises in the companies I have been in due to the changing and difficult times, my thoughts and feelings towards the corporate world has changed from when I was a fresh graduate who thought that my hard work would be fairly compensated. But really, I have become lazier and comfortable. Also, the skills that I have learned over the 5 years might not have been what is needed in the future.

It could also be the constant attention to complains from various sources that have clouded my view but I came across a few articles that wrote of the “Curse of 35” that has been going around in China. To be honest, it sounds scary as 35 years old would still be considered rather young but people in China aged 35 and above are finding it tough to find employment. The jobs environment of China has been tough as we saw high youth unemployment and China-US relations are suffering coupled with a property industry bust where property has been a huge proponent of China’s economy. The extended lockdown has also caused many local businesses to wind down.

Curse of 35

It’s been a few years of ‘cute’ slogans, tang ping, bai lan, quiet quitting, lazy girl jobs etc, curse of 35 is also another one of these. But it can be very real especially when we see AI rising and whether what we are doing now will be relevant when I enter my late 30s.

In China, it was found that many job advertisements explicitly limited the age of candidates to below 35, including for civil service admissions and jobs with several local governments. Another study conducted by Sichuan University, found that out of 300,000 job postings, over 80 per cent in Shanghai and more than 70 per cent in the south-western city of Chengdu sought applicants under 35.

Many in China are worrying especially since restructuring and layoffs have been rampant in recent times considering the downturn in China’s economy as manufacturing jobs are moving out and the property industry isn’t hiring like before. Being 35 years old is too young to retire but corporations are finding you too old to work as mentioned by a Weibo user.

An article from Business Insider mentioned that this ‘curse of 35’ sprouted most likely due to the ‘996’ culture of China. The 996 culture is where individuals work from 9am to 9pm for 6 days per week, considering this gruelling schedule, younger workers are usually preferred as they are thought to have more energy and vigor to last through the hours. Companies also assume that individuals above the age of 35 are less flexible, less tech savvy and slower in learning.

There are also hordes of youths looking for a job and if at age 35, you are still doing an entry level job, then the company might just replace you for a fresh graduate since they might not need to pay as much and have a lot more options to select from.

Mr. Liang, now 38, is a technology support professional turned personal trainer. He has been unemployed for much of the past three years, partly because of the pandemic and China’s sagging economy. But he believes the main reason is his age. He’s too old for many employers, including the Chinese government, which caps the hiring age for most civil servant positions at 35. If the Curse of 35 is a legend, it’s one supported by some facts. “I work out, so I look pretty young for my age,” he said in an interview. “But in the eyes of society, people like me are obsolete.” - Taken from The New York Times


The population in China has came up with this term as professional white collar jobs there are getting lesser due to foreign investments reducing their presence and China is/was a manufacturing hub but produced a large number of degree holders and even master degree holders over the past few years. However, they did not pivot their economy or jobs to align with the more educated population although their technology companies have been doing well but restricted due to common prosperity and crackdown. The pandemic has also affected them.

For me, looking at those who are 35 and above in my company, most of them carry themselves well and having the experience from working longer does make them react to situations differently from a fresh graduate which is important and provides a different perspective.

To be honest, I don’t really see it happening in Singapore however there are PMET who are more vulnerable to layoffs even though they have more experience from working longer. It does seem that in certain industries, ageism is very prominent. Jobs like lawyers and doctors, you definitely want someone older and more experienced but in marketing or anything related to digitalisation or tech, ageism can be seen.

This curse of 35 is making individuals in China give up on working hard as they don’t see a future where they will be valued by the companies as they grow old. The situation is definitely made worse by the job postings in China blatantly listing for those age 35 and younger

Scary to think as I would say my role is still somewhat an entry level and IC role so it definitely is cheaper to get a fresh graduate to do it. Even I foresee that if I were to remain stagnant in this role, I will be out when I turn 35 years old since it is more administrative and almost anyone can do it. So learning new things and making myself adaptable is important. The future is scary but working on my present self is what I can do.

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