Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education

By Vanessa Sheared; Peggy A. Sissel et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

The Role of Adult Education in Workplace Ageism

Su-fen Liu and Frances Rees

Issues of diversity regarding race, gender, and class are increasingly emerging as important topics of discussion in the adult education literature. Age, however, is the forgotten diversity issue, according to advocates for older workers (Loftus, in Capowski 1994, 11). One reason for this lack of focus is that, unlike its counterparts racism and sexism, ageism is a much more subtle bias and, therefore, often goes unrecognized (Capowski 1994, 11). Yet, given the current makeup of the population and workforce in the United States, we argue that age should not be neglected in the discourse regarding multiculturalism, diversity, and marginalized learners, workers, and citizens.

This chapter will examine ageism in the workplace from the perspective of adult education. To set a basis for discussion, the changing demographics of the American population and the context of the current and future workforce will be presented first. This will be followed by a discussion on ageism in the workplace and the role adult educators and human resource developers might play in enhancing or reducing workplace ageism. Throughout, concepts of critical educational gerontology and the interrelationship between ageism and other social factors will be highlighted, along with suggested implications for adult education theory and practice.


CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS AND EMPLOYERS’ REACTIONS

In their book Workforce 2000, Johnston and Packer (1987) point out that as a result of the aging of baby boomers, the median age of the American population will be 36 by 2000. The number of people between the ages of 20 and 29 will have shrunk from 41 million in 1980 to 34 million in 2000, dropping

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