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Age discrimination or Ageism is stereotyping and prejudice against individuals or groups because of their age.[1]



Ageism commonly refers towards negative discriminatory practices, regardless of the age towards which it is applied. The following terms are subsidiary forms of ageism:

  • Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which is seen as biased against children, youth, and all young people who aren't addressed or viewed as adults.[2]
  • Jeunism is the tendency to prefer young people over older people. This includes political candidacies, commercial functions, and cultural settings where the supposed greater vitality and/or physical beauty of youth is more appreciated than the supposed greater moral and/or intellectual rigor of adulthood.
  • Adultcentricism is the "exaggerated egocentrism of adults.[3]
  • Adultocracy is the social convention which defines "maturity" and "immaturity," placing adults in a dominant position over young people, both theoretically and practically.[4]
  • Gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population.
  • Chronocentrism is primarily the belief that a certain state of humanity is superior to all previous and/or former times.

Ageism is said to lead towards the development of fears towards age groups, particularly:


Age discrimination can be very costly in economic terms. It is estimated that it costs the UK economy £31 billion every year. In a survey of 1,000 UK workers aged 50 to 64 years conducted in 2008 {Citation}},

  • 38% said they planned to carry on working beyond 65. Currently only 11% of the workforce work beyond state pension age
  • People in the UK aged 50+ have 30% more disposable income than the under 50's
  • 90% of older employees believe that employers discriminate against them
  • For the first time in 2006 there were more 55-64 year olds than 16-24 year olds
  • By 2011, under 16's will make up only 18% of the population compared with 23% in 1961
  • By November 2007, 27% of the UK's 29.4M work force were over 50.

Discrimination Against Younger Workers

Like race and gender discrimination, age discrimination, at least when it affects younger workers, can result in unequal pay for equal work. Unlike race and gender discrimination, age discrimination in wages is often enshrined in law. For example, in both the United States[7] and the United Kingdom[8] minimum wage laws allow for employers to pay lower wages to young workers. Many state and local minimum wage laws mirror such an age-based tiered minimum wage. Outside of the law, older workers, on average, make more than younger workers do. Firms may be afraid to offer older workers lower wages than younger workers.

Labor regulations also limit the age at which someone is allowed to work and how many hours and under what conditions they may work. In the United States you must generally be 14 to seek a job, and face additional restrictions on your work until 16.[9] Many companies refuse to hire workers under 18.

Discrimination Against Older Workers

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. Another one in ten people said that they have experienced discrimination by the NHS or health insurance companies, or been turned down for financial products because of their age. {{Citation} Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern England, said: 'Comprehensive legislation is needed now, not just to cover the workplace but many other sectors of life.'

While older workers benefit from higher wages than younger workers they face barriers in promotions and hiring. They may also encourage early retirement or layoff disproportionately older/more experienced workers.

Age discrimination in hiring has been shown to exist in the United States. Joanna Lahey, Economics professor at Texas A&M, found that firms are more than 40% more likely to interview a younger job applicant than an older job applicant.[10]

In a survey for the University of Kent, England, 29% of respondents stated that they had suffered from age discrimination. This is a higher proportion than for gender or race discrimination. Dominic Abrams, Social Psychology professor at the University, concluded that ageism is the most pervasive form of prejudice experienced in the UK population.[11]

Government responses

In the US, each state may have its own law governing age discrimination. In California, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act governs age discrimination with respect to persons over the age of 40. The FEHA is the principal California statute prohibiting employment discrimination covering employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, apprenticeship programs and any person or entity who aids, abets, incites, compels, or coerces the doing of a discriminatory act. In addition to Age, it prohibits employment discrimination based on race or color; religion; national origin or ancestry, physical disability; mental disability or medical condition; marital status; sex or sexual orientation; and pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.[12]

The Federal Government governs age discrimination under the Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination based on age with respect to employees 40 years of age or older as well. The ADEA also addresses the difficulty older workers face in obtaining new employment after being displaced from their jobs, arbitrary age limits.[13] The ADEA applies even if some of the minimum 20 employees are overseas and working for a US corporation.[14]

Other countries that have laws addressing ageism include Australia, Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Related efforts

Many intergenerational and youth programs have been created to address the issue of ageism. Among the advocacy organizations created to challenge age discrimination are:

  • United States
    • Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions
    • Gray Panthers: Formed in the early 1970s with a goal of eliminating ageism in all forms.
    • National Youth Rights Association: Formed in the late 1990s with the goal of gaining civil rights for youth.

Related campaigns

  • In 2002 the Writers Guild of America West has waged a legal battle within the entertainment industry to eliminate age discrimination commonly faced by elder scriptwriters.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Director Paul Weitz reported he wrote the 2004 film, In Good Company to reveal how ageism affects youth and adults.[15]
  • In 2002 The Freechild Project created an information and training initiative to provide resources to youth organizations and schools focused on youth rights.[16]

Accusations of Ageism

  • The television show Thirtysomething has been singled out for being ageist towards middle-aged adults.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • In a recent interview, famed actor Pierce Brosnan cited ageism as one of the contributing factors as to why he was not cast as James Bond in the Bond film Casino Royale, released in 2006.[17]

See also


  1. Nelson, T. (Ed.) (2002). Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons, MIT Press . ISBN 978-0-262-64057-2.
  2. Lauter And Howe (1971) Conspiracy of the Young. Meridian Press.
  3. De Martelaer, K., De Knop, P., Theeboom, M., and Van Heddegem, L. (2000) "The UN Convention as a Basis for Elaborating Rights of Children In Sport," Journal of Leisurability. 27(2), pp. 3-10.
  4. (n.d.) Youth Liberation Z magazine.
  5. Fletcher, A. (2006) Washington Youth Voice Handbook. CommonAction.
  6. Branch, L., Harris, D. & Palmore, E.B. (2005) Encyclopedia of Ageism. Haworth Press. ISBN 078901890X
  7. Questions and Answers About the Minimum Wage, US Department of Labor
  8. Age Positive, Department for Work and Pensions in Sheffield and London
  9. Youth & Labor - Age Requirements, US Department of Labor
  10. Lahey, J. (2005) Do Older Workers Face Discrimination? Boston College.
  11. (2006) How Ageist is Britain? London: Age Concern.
  12. California Fair Employment and Housing Act FindLaw.
  13. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 FindLaw website.
  14. Morelli v. Cedel (2nd Cir. 1998) 141 F3d 39, 45 FindLaw website.
  15. Hellerman, A. (2005) Working Solo in Good Company Writers Guild of America, East website.
  16. (n.d.) Survey of North American Youth Rights The Freechild Project website.
  17. Cox, J. (2006) Brosnan Bares All For Playboy

External links

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