Empowering Women 55+: Sofia Living Lab Tackling Ageism in the Workforce

Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is a vibrant city grappling with demographic shifts, particularly concerning women aged 55 and above. Despite strides in narrowing the gender pay gap, older women encounter formidable obstacles in securing employment, with age discrimination remaining prevalent.

According to recent data, Sofia boasts a registered population of 1,538,078, making it Bulgaria’s largest and most densely populated city. Moreover, the area around the capital is one of the key attraction locations for in-migration, with an average annual growth of the population of 6.1% by 2022 (Institute for Market Economics 2023a). However, the demographic composition reveals disparities, with individuals aged 15 to 64 constituting 72.1% of the city’s populace, slightly higher than the national average.

Concerns also persist regarding women’s participation in the labor market. While the unemployment rates for women and men differ marginally, women continue to face lower incomes, often attributed to their concentration in lower-paying industries and managerial underrepresentation. Nevertheless, there has been progress; the gender wage gap has narrowed from 25% in 2000 to less than 18% in 2021.

Sofia’s labor market reflects robust employment figures, low unemployment at 1.5%, and a decline in individuals utilizing labor services  (Institute for Market Economics 2023a; Sofia Municipality, 2017) – again, link the publications. Efforts to promote labor market inclusion for senior workers are underway through various programs, including initiatives targeting unemployed individuals over 55.

However, women aged 55 and above remain vulnerable in the labor market, facing a heightened risk of unemployment and prolonged joblessness. Age discrimination persists, compounded by biases regarding adaptability, ambition, and skill acquisition. Psychological repercussions, including depression, are increasingly reported among victims of ageism.

SYNCLUSIVE is using Living Labs as a main research method. Sofia Living Lab strives to empower older women and combat age discrimination in the workforce.

A Living Lab is a place where people try out and make better new ideas in the real world. The establishment of Sofia Living Lab seeks to address these challenges comprehensively. Through collaborative re-entry training and psychological support, the initiative aims to enhance the participant’s skills, motivation, and career prospects. Public campaigns against ageism and gender stereotypes, along with consultations to foster an age-inclusive workforce, are integral components of this endeavor.