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Ageism at work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 3555 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ageism can be defined as “any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age” (Traxler, 1980, p. 4). As an “ism”, ageism reflects a prejudice in society against older adults.

Ageism, however, is different from other “isms” (sexism, racism etc.), for primarily two reasons. First, age classification is not static. An individual’s age classification changes as one progresses through the life cycle. Thus, age classification is characterized by continual change, while the other classification systems traditionally used by society such as race and gender remain constant. Second, no one is exempt from at some point achieving the status of old, and therefore, unless they die at an early age, experiencing ageism. The later is an important distinction as ageism can thus affect the individual on two levels. First, the individual may be ageist with respect to others. That is s/he may stereotype other people on the basis of age. Second, the individual may be ageist with respect to self. Thus, ageist attitudes may affect the self concept.

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Much research has been conducted concerning ageism. However, the empirical evidence is inconclusive. Some research demonstrates the existence of ageist attitudes (Golde & Kogan, 1959; Kastenbaum & Durkee, 1964a, 1964b; Tuckman & Lorge, 1953) and other research does not (Brubaker & Powers, 1976; Schonfield, 1985). This discrepancy is most likely the result of methodological differences and, in particular, methodological errors. A brief discussion of the major methodological errors or problems found in ageism research may be helpful in clarifying this point.

The first major problem is that the majority of ageism research suffers from a mono-method bias. In other words, each study used only one method to operationally define the ageism construct. Methods commonly used have included sentence completion (Golde & Kogan, 1959), semantic differential (Kogan & Wallach, 1961; Rosencranz & McNevin, 1969), Likert scales (Kilty & Feld, 1976), and adjective checklists (Aaronson, 1966). The problem inherent in the use of a mono-method is that any effect found may be an artifact of the method employed rather than the construct under study. Thus, a researcher should employ more than one method to look for consistency in the results.

Another problem, according to Kogan (1979) is the use of within-subjects designs in ageism research. In other words, a subject will be asked to complete a questionnaire regarding both younger and older adults. Kogan asserts that by using this methodology, age is pushed to the foreground of a subject’s mind. The subject thus becomes aware that the researcher is looking for age differences. Therefore, age differences are found.

The use of primarily younger populations to study ageism represents another problem with ageism research. The majority of ageism research uses children, adolescents, or young adults as subjects and examines their perception of older adults. Only a few studies have examined the perceptions of the population whom the construct affects most – older adults. Those studies which have used an older subject population have unfortunately used primarily institutionalized individuals as subjects (Kastenbaum & Durkee, 1964a; Tuckman & Lavell, 1957). Therefore, they do not represent the vast majority of older adults.

Another problem with much of ageism research is that it only examines the negative stereotypes of old age. More recent studies have suggested that while attitudes toward the aged are increasingly positive, they are still stereotypic (Austin, 1985). Therefore, ageism has been expanded to include positive stereotypic images. However, these are rarely studied (Brubaker & Powers, 1976).

Two additional problems are primarily theoretical in nature. First, ageism research rarely examines or attempts to understand the causes of ageism. Thus, while much theoretical work has been conducted concerning the factors contributing to ageism, little empirical research has been conducted in this area. Second, ageism research rarely examines the interaction between ageism and other “isms”. As many individuals are in a position to experience more than one prejudice, the interaction between these prejudices needs to be examined.

The Theoretical Basis of Ageism

Ageism consists of a negative bias or stereotypic attitude toward aging and the aged. It is maintained in the form of primarily negative stereotypes and myths concerning the older adult. Traxler (1980) outlines four factors that have contributed to this negative image of aging. Each will be discussed below.

The first factor that is postulated to contribute to ageism is the fear of death in Western society. Western civilization conceptualizes death as outside of the human life cycle (Butler & Lewis, 1977). As such, death is experienced and viewed as an affront to the self. Death is not seen as natural and inevitable part of the life course. This can be contrasted with Eastern philosophy where life and death are all part of a continuous cycle. Death and life are inextricably woven together and the “self” continues throughout. To be a person, in Western society, however, means that one must be alive and in control of the events of one1s life. Therefore, death is feared.

As death is feared, old age is feared; death and old age are viewed as synonymous in American society (Kastenbaum, 1979). Kastenbaum (1973) hypothesizes that ageism attitudes and stereotypes serve to insulate the young and middle-aged from the ambivalence they feel towards the elderly. This ambivalence results from the fact that the older adult is viewed as representing aging and death. Butler (1969) states: “Ageism reflects a deep seated uneasiness on the part of the young and middle-aged – a personal revulsion to and distaste for growing old, disease, disability; and a fear of powerlessness, ‘uselessness’, and death” ((p. 243). This represents the most commonly argued basis for ageism.

The second factor postulated by Traxler (1980) to contribute to ageism is the emphasis on the youth culture in American society. For example, the media, ranging from television to novels, place an emphasis on youth, physical beauty, and sexuality. Older adults are primarily ignored or portrayed negatively (Martel, 1968; Northcott, 1975). The emphasis on youth not only affects how older individuals are perceived but also how older individuals perceive themselves. Persons who are dependent on physical appearance and youth for their identity are likely to experience loss of self-esteem with age (Block, Davidson, & Grumbs, 1981).

The emphasis in American culture on productivity represents the third factor contributing to ageism in American culture (Traxler, 1980). It should be noted that productivity is narrowly defined in terms of economic potential. Both ends of the life cycle are viewed as unproductive, children and the aged. The middle-aged are perceived as carrying the burdens imposed by both groups (Butler, 1969). Children, however, are viewed as having future economic potential. In a way, they are seen as an economic investment. Economically, older adults are perceived as a financial liability. This is not to say that older adults are unproductive. However, upon retirement, the older adult is no longer viewed as economically productive in American society and thus devalued.

The fourth factor contributing to ageism in American society and the so-called helping professions is the manner in which aging was originally researched. Poorly controlled gerontological studies have reinforced the negative image of the older adult. When aging was originally studied, researchers went to long-term care institutions where the aged were easy to find. However, only 5 percent of the older population is institutionalized. Thus, the early research on the aged and aging was based upon non-well, institutionalized older individuals. There is still a need for more research to be undertaken using a healthy, community-dwelling older population.

The factors cited above represent four contributing factors to ageism. It has been proposed that individual ageist attitudes can be decreased through continual exposure to and work with older adults (Rosencranz & McNevin, 1969). However, there appears to be a large societal influence on ageist attitudes. Therefore, until these societal influences are addressed, ageism can not be obliterated. For example, if the fear of death and therefore aging is not somehow addressed societally, then younger individuals will continue to attempt to make the older population somehow different from themselves. This differentiation of themselves from older adults, thus serves to protect them from the reality of death.


The number of people claiming to have faceddiscrimination at workbecause of their age has more than tripled in a year, according to official statistics. Figures released by the Tribunal Service show that claims rose from 962 in 2006 to 2,940 in 2007.

The figures come just days after Selina Scott reached a settlement with Channel Five, thought to be worth £250,000, after claiming she had been the victim of ageism. The 57-year-old presenter sued the broadcaster after claiming she had been lined up to provide maternity cover for Natasha Kaplinsky on Five News but was subsequently overlooked.

The figures will reinforce the belief among solicitors that the number of age-related cases will soar over the next few years. Legislation outlawing age discrimination was introduced three years ago, and Melanie Thomas, a solicitor at discrimination law specialists Palmer Wade, said: ‘It takes a while for people to understand that they have new rights.’

Other figures show that there were 1,032 age discrimination claims in tribunals between April and June, compared with 700 claims in the same period last year. In 2007, the average payout for successful age discrimination cases was £8,695, compared with £10,044 for sex discrimination and £17,308 for race claims. Meanwhile, some people have tried to exploit the laws to their own advantage. Margaret Keane, 50, applied for a series of jobs for ‘recently qualified’ chartered accountants and, after failing to get any, tabled compensation claims on the grounds of age discrimination.

Gillian Shaw, a solicitor at employment law specialists Ledingham Chalmers LLP, said: ‘There is a financial incentive for claimants to look for an alternative to a straightforward claim of, say, unfair dismissal because age discrimination, like sex and race discrimination, does not have an upper limit on the amount of compensation that can be claimed.’

Scott argued that Channel Five had backed out of a £200,000 presenting deal because they felt she was too old, choosing Isla Traquair, 28, instead.

A string of former BBC faces – including Kate Adie and Anna Ford joined forces to accuse television of discriminating against mature women. Dame Joan Bakewell claimed the medium was dominated by the ‘hideously young’.

In an interview in today’s Observer, Ford claims women suffer the most. Ageism against women, she adds, is a peculiar British tradition. ‘In America, there are women with white hair who are heads of banks, heads of corporations,’ she said. ‘Where are those women here?’

The latest government figures, released earlier this year, showed that the pay gap between men and women had widened for the first time in years. The new Equality Bill is due to be presented to Parliament this spring, and not a moment too soon, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s fifth annual Sex & Power report, which recorded a drop – for the first time – in women attaining top jobs. In 12 out of 25 job categories, it found fewer women in top posts than in 2007.

Ageism at work in later life

There is a commonly assumed view that ageism affects only a small minority of older people in the UK. The popular television character Victor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave perfectly captures the stereotype of a grumbling man in later life, stuck in his ways, resistant to change, baffled by technology and distanced from the views and activities of young people.

Yet, when examining the issue of ageism, it becomes clear that as with all stereotypes this image is flawed.

  • Ageism affects a wide age group, of both genders and all backgrounds.
  • According to a MORI Social Research Institute poll, ageism tops the list of UK discrimination in the workplace.
  • Over one in five people (22%) interviewed by MORI felt they had been unfairly discriminated against in the work environment.
  • 38 per cent of those who were discriminated against cited age as the most prevalent form of discrimination.
  • Of those who believed they had personally encountered ageism in the workplace, just over half said they were discriminated against because they were too old, however the remaining half claimed to have received unfair treatment for being too young.
  • Estimated cost to the economy of this form of discrimination ranges from £16 billion to £31 billion.These figures are shocking but statistics alone cannot account for the social or personal impact that ageism has on individuals and society at large.
  • The government Age Positive Campaign is insistent that attitudes must change. By 2010 nearly 40 per cent of the working population will be over 45. Supporting this cultural shift, legislation preventing ageism in the workplace will be in place in the UK by 2006. But what the government really wants is change here and now.
  • More and more employers in the public and private sector are convinced by the business case of employing a mixed age workforce. They know that Age Positive can result in operational, market and revenue gains. Mixed age workforces are proven to provide employers with a wider available skills base, improved productivity, better morale, increased customer loyalty, greater market share and increased shareholder wealth.


Today’s report by the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), which surveyed 1,000 workers over the age of 16, claims discrimination against older and younger employees remains “rife” in the workplace.

It found that 61 per cent of respondents had witnessed ageist behaviour at work, and half did not know about legislation which would make this illegal. The survey also shows that young and old people could lose out on pay rises and promotions as a result of their age – 31 per cent said they had seen older people paid more for doing exactly the same job as a younger employee. Almost a quarter – 23 per cent – recalled an older worker being promoted even if the younger candidate had more experience. EFA director Sam Mercer commented: “As our research has confirmed, ageism is endemic in our society and rife in our workplaces. “These attitudes need to be challenged and outlawed so that they become as unacceptable as sexism or racism.” Although Mr Mercer said the new laws, which will come into force on Sunday, “will help provide protection for people who feel that they have been discriminated against on grounds of their age”, he added the change in legislation was “just the beginning of a long journey towards tackling social prejudices”. A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told politics.co.uk the government was committed to ensuring equality at work. He noted that in the past year 208,000 more people aged over 50 are working, claiming “the evidence suggests there are many businesses which are keen to harness the skills and experience older workers can bring”. He added: “We know the practice of ageism is bad for business and the new legislation will ensure that older workers are protected and ageism is stamped out.” The government’s Age Positive campaign, which sees businesses supplied with an age toolkit, involves “working with a wide range of UK businesses to help them recognise the benefits of older workers – such as reduced recruitment costs, higher retention rates, greater flexibility, higher productivity, and a broader range of skills and experience”, he said. The government will consider whether to keep the compulsory retirement age, currently at 65 for men, or to abolish it at a formal review in 2011. The EFA report comes in the wake of a separate survey for the charity Help the Aged, which finds only 42 per cent of the 1,000 people questioned were aware of the new laws on age discrimination. It also showed that older people still feared ageism at work, and called on the government to ensure older employees knew their rights

Age discrimination is still rife, and urgent legislation is needed to stamp it out, a survey has said.


Ageism also happen in sports like there is an example of Pakistani team coach Intikhab

Ageism doesn’t bother Pakistan coach

KARACHI: Pakistan cricket team coach Intikhab Alam on Tuesday brushed aside “negative” criticism from those demanding his removal because of hisage, saying the campaign was motivated by jealousy.

The 67-year-old guided Pakistan to the World Twenty20 title in England in June but Tests and One-day defeats on the Sri Lankatourlast month prompted former players to brand his old age a hindrance in proper coaching.

But Alam brushed aside the flak.

“If there is healthy criticism I take it in a positive way, but targeting my age is negative thinking and I smell jealousy from this,” said Alam on the sidelines of Pakistan team’s training camp.

The five-day camp is the final phase of Pakistan’s preparations for the elite eight-nationChampions Trophyto be played in South Africa from September 22-October 5.

Alam said the same people who were pointing finger at his age were praising him a few months ago.

“I feel sorry for such people who have a personal vendetta against me,” said Alam, who was also credited for Pakistan’s success in the 50-over World Cup in Australia in 1992. “They cannot digest our T20 success.”

Former captain Aamir Sohail last week criticised Alam for being too old to handle coaching at international level.

Former PakistanCricketBoard chief Tauqir Zia also joined Sohail in targeting Alam’s age, saying Pakistan needs a young coach to guide them to more successes.

Alam, however, insists he is fit.

“I even take part in coaching drills and my age has never been a hindrance in my work. Coaching is all about experience and football coaches worldwide are over 70 years of age but no one speaks against them,” said Alam.


According to an ICM poll for Age Concern, nearly one third of people know someone who has been a victim of age discrimination at work.

Age discrimination is so widespread that 70% of people believe that ageism still occurs, the same as when a similar survey was conducted in 1998.

Another one-in-10 people said that they have experienced discrimination by the NHS, health insurance companies, and been turned down for financial products because of their age.

Too old

Age Concern criticised employers and companies for failing to tackle ageism – and the government’s voluntary Code of Practice on age diversity in employment, which was published in 1999.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern England, said: “The government’s voluntary code clearly isn’t working.

“Comprehensive legislation is needed now, not just to cover the workplace but many other sectors of life.”

In November 2000, the government adopted a European Union directive, which outlaws age discrimination at work.

It must now introduce legislation which supports the directive’s principles by 2006.

Political voice

Age Concern has also announced plans to offer older people membership of the charity, to strengthen its campaigning work.

Mr Lishman, said: ” It will give older people the opportunity to directly influence policy makers and force the ‘age’ issue higher up the political agenda.”

There are between 700,000 and 1m people in the UK who are aged between 50 and 64 and are unemployed or “economically inactive”.


  • BBC
  • http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/488/488%20srivastava.htm


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