What is Ageism?
The most common ageism definition states that an individual is discriminated against or stereotyped solely on their age.
Originally ageism was considered a problem for the elderly but young adults also experience unfair treatment because of their age.
There are currently laws in the United States that protect people over age 40 from being discriminated against because of their age, however no laws exist to protect teenagers and young adults from being discriminated against for the same reason.
So who is protected by law against age discrimination? According to an article by Donna Ballman: “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act says that it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of your age, but that only applies if you’re age 40 or older, and only if the employer has at least 20 employees (or is a government of any size). Some states, counties and cities have laws that protect employees of smaller organizations. Some states also have laws that further limit age-based discrimination.”
Agesim in the Workplace:
Ageism in the workplace normally appears in the form of harassment. In this case, harassment is the unwelcome and offensive conduct based on a person’s age. These behaviors can include:
- Age-based jokes or comments
- Offensive cartoons/drawings/symbols
- Offensive gestures
- Assigning someone particular tasks based upon their age
- Ignoring a person’s ideas or contributions because of their age
Ageism can be present along with other forms of discrimination, including sexism and racism.
What are some signs of Ageism in the Workplace?
Comments – particularly ones referring to a person as kiddo, sport, grandma, grandpa, old man, young’in
Comparisons – if someone of an older or younger age is treated dramatically different than another employee, especially in cases of lay offs and raises it could be an example of age discrimination
Disparate Discipline – is an older employee disciplined more harshly than a younger employee for something or vice versa
Promotions – if an older or younger person is more qualified for a position, but loses out to a less qualified older or younger employee, it could be age discrimination
Favoritism – Does an older/younger employee seem to be given better assignments, sales leads, or special projects, does the boss seem to socialize only with one age group and not another
Examples of Ageism:
Against the Elderly:
- Loss of mental clarity or ability
- Loss of ability to care for themselves, physically and financially
- Inability to keep up with technology
- Sense of entitlement
- Being grouchy or “crochety”
On the other hand, young adults face quite a number of assumptions solely based on their age, including:
- Being lazy
- Being irresponsible
- Being disrespectful
- Sense of entitlement
- Sense of aimlessness
- Referring to someone as being “childish” if they display bad behavior
- Sayings including “children should be seen and not heard”
Ageism in America:
Ironically, people who are discriminated against, can also be perpetrators of ageism as well.
Although the elderly used to be the sole focus of ageism, they sometimes generalize and stereotype youths the same way that they have been stereotyped. Many elderly believe youth to be lazy and self entitled and not willing to work hard or earn their own way.
Conversely, youth perpetuate the ageism of the elderly by treating the elderly as if they have diminished mental capacity or are easy to take advantage of.
Ageism is not only a source of debate and contention, it is also very often a legal battle. Major companies including Disney and Deutshe Bank have endured extremely public legal battles after former employees accused them of letting them go only to fill their positions with people who were much younger. According to an article on ChicagoTribune.com, shoe giant DSW just announced that they would pay out $900,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former employees who claimed that they were fired based on their ages. DSW denied the allegations, yet agreed to a monetary settlement.
Articles About Ageism:
Ageism is an often discussed topic in the media and many journalists and authors have delved into the subject in great detail.
In an article on Forbes.com, contributor Liz Ryan takes a different approach to the argument. Ryan says that instead of hanging one’s chances for a job on their accomplishments, they should take the approach of showing the potential employer how hiring them would solve the business need the employer is looking to fulfill. Ryan argues that when hirings are approached this way, it takes age discrimination out of the equation, because potential employers are no longer judging the candidate by the years on their resumes, but instead by the skills they have to fulfill a particular need.
She also points out that while there are laws on the books to protect people over 40 from being discriminated against, there are no such laws on the books for young people, therefore her approach would work for both age groups.
Ageism and Health:
The Huffington Post recently published an article highlighting the findings of a recent study conducted at Florida State University.
The study evaluated 6,000 adults who discussed their health and how they perceived discrimination. The results overwhelmingly showed that adults who felt they were victims of weight or age discrimination were in significantly poorer physical and mental health compared with adults who were not discriminated against.
However, even more striking was that the research found that discrimination in other areas, including race, sex, ancestry, and even sexual orientation did not factor into health declines in these adults.
The researchers were surprised by the pervasiveness of the results in the study, but perceived age discrimination has been long recognized by experts as being linked to chronic stress, which often leads to a decline in overall health and wellness.
Helping Older People Navigate Workforce Challenges:
AARP.com discussed how older workers are sometimes forced into retirement and then forced into giving up their rights to claim age discrimination by their former employers. According to the article:
Cindy Levering is the volunteer chair of the pension research team at the Society of Actuaries, which conducted a 2013 study that asked recently retired people why they left their jobs.
“People who had retired voluntarily — it turned out it wasn’t so voluntary,” she says. “They felt they had been pushed out. Some said employers were setting unrealistic goals. Some couldn’t do their job because of physical demands, or they didn’t feel valued. Not many said they wanted to retire to pursue their dreamsor passion.”
Even when company practices are challenged, the odds of winning a case aren’t great.
“It’s so difficult to prove age discrimination that employers are emboldened,” says Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation. “They think they can get away with it.”
Employers are able to get away with these types of practices because the Supreme Court has placed the burden of proving age discrimination on the employee.
Ageism and Europe:
According to an article published on CNBC.com, American isn’t the only country where ageism is an issue.
The situation in Europe is focused more on the younger generation being unable to find work. In fact, it has become such a problem, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the unemployment rate of European youth, “the most pressing European problem.”
“The young are suffering particularly hard on the unemployment front, which is likely particularly galling to them as they see the older generations as being responsible for the economic/unemployment problems,” Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight, told CNBC.
The article also shares some staggering statistics:
Some 23.8 percent of under-25s, equivalent to 3.5 million people, were unemployed in the euro zone in May, according to the latest data from Eurostat, compared to 12.2 percent for the population as a whole. Greece and Spain have the highest levels of youth unemployment, with more than half of under-25s out of a job.
The poor employment prospects for Europe’s youth are worsening divisions between Generation Y – people born after 1980 – and the post-war “baby boomers”.
No matter who the Agist (one committing the discrimination) is, the problem is equally as significant and shows little to no signs of improving without significant social change. Overcoming agism and instances of discrimination for youth and older workers is an uphill battle no matter which way it is approached.