Age Discrimination

Age discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of people because of their age. This type of discrimination has a lower profile than those of racial origin or gender, which generate more complaints. This is likely to change, however, amid the public's growing concern over the aging workforce.

Children and teenagers are routinely subject to age discrimination as the law dictates that they have to attend school, while also not being able to vote, drink alcohol or work. Older people are also discriminated against because of their age, even though they often enjoy reduced taxes, discounts on drugs, admission fees and tickets.

However, discussions on age discrimination rarely focus on children's restricted rights or older people's special privileges, but any instances of unfair or negative treatment of older people because of their advance age are a primary concern. As a result many countries have laws against age discrimination.

In the United States the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed by the US Congress in 1967. ADEA and its amendments made it illegal for employers with over 20 workers to discriminate against an individual past the age of 40 because of his or her age. This law was passed in response to rampant and blatant discrimination against older people by employers. Before the ADEA legislation employers would often included age restriction details in ‘help wanted' advertisements and also required employees to retire at a fixed age. Even so, age discrimination has not fully disappeared following this legislation.

Although discrimination against old people tends is now less overt than before the law was passed the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the agency responsible for overseeing the ADEA, still receives thousands of complaints of age discrimination a year. In addition, the number of instances of age discrimination is estimated to be much higher than the number of cases filed with the agency.

In spite of the failure of law to put a complete end to discrimination against old people in the workplace, much effort has gone into the protection of older employees' rights since the 1960s. The unfair treatment on the basis of age has received much more attention in the United States when compared to Japan and most European countries, which still see occurrences of blatant age discrimination.

In Australia a bill passed by the New South Wales parliament in 1977 was the first piece of legislation banning discrimination in employment and other areas; age discrimination was included, but it was later removed and then added again as grounds for complaint against discrimination in 1993. At a federal level, discrimination in a range of areas, including employment, was prohibited in June 2004 by the Age Discrimination Act 2004.

The occurrence of age discrimination in the workplace depends on the demand for labour in the market as well as on employers' perceptions of the competence of older people; in a tight labour market, for example, employers feel less inclined to practice age discrimination. Research has shown that there is a widespread perception that older people are less flexible, less technically competent as well as less suitable for training, however, studies of older people refute this stereotypical view and tend to show that they are not less productive than younger employees.

Whilst some physical and mental capacities, such as speed and reaction time, decline with age, these changes are usually small until advanced ages and can often be compensated for by experience. Every age offers a wide range of abilities and learning potential so employers should base their decisions on criteria related to the job and not on misconceived and arbitrary notions about age.

In addition to employment, the other most widely recognised area of discrimination against old people is health care, with several factors contributing. Many health professionals share the traditional view that aging is a continual process of decline; they often dismiss complaints and symptoms of older patients because they can't make a distinction between disease and processes of normal aging. In addition, doctors often prefer curing acute illnesses rather than managing chronic diseases - which are much more common among the older people than the youth - and rehabilitation. Another reason for the undertreatment of older people is poor communication between doctor and patient, as well as the lack of training in handling the medical problems of older adults in educational institutions.

Age Discrimination: Selected full-text books and articles

Discrimination at Work: The Psychological and Organizational Bases By Robert L. Dipboye; Adrienne Colella Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Age Discrimination in the Workplace"
Ageism and the American Legal System By Eglit, Howard C Generations, Vol. 29, No. 3, Fall 2005
"But I'm Denny Crane!": Age Discrimination in the Legal Profession after Sidley By Labriola, Donald J Albany Law Review, Vol. 72, No. 1, Winter 2009
Kidney Allocation and the Limits of the Age Discrimination Act By Eidelson, Benjamin The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 122, No. 6, April 2013
As Adea Turns 40, More Needed to Combat Age Discrimination By Butler, Robert N Aging Today, Vol. 28, No. 4, July/August 2007
Was That Question Illegal? By Varner, Katrin C.; Varner, Carson H Review of Business, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Cultural Gerontology By Lars Andersson Auburn House, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Ageism and Globalization: Citizenship and Social Rights in Transnational Settings"
Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality By Raymond F. Gregory Rutgers University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. Six "Discrimination against Older Women"
Age Discrimination in Employment in Canada By Gunderson, Morley Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol. 21, No. 3, July 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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