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Ageism, or age discrimination is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined Ageism as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people The term has also been used to describe prejudice and discrimination against adolescents and children, including ignoring their ideas because they are too young, or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because of their age.
Ageism in common parlance and age studies usually refers to negative discriminatory practices against old people, people in their middle years, teenagers and children. There are several forms of age-related bias. Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which is seen as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults. Jeunism is the discrimination against older people in favor of younger ones. This includes political candidacies, jobs, 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." Adultocracy is the social convention which defines "maturity" and "immaturity," placing adults in a dominant position over young people, both theoretically and practically. 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 future times.
Other conditions of fear or aversion associated with age groups have their own names, particularly: paedophobia, the fear of infants and children; ephebiphobia, the fear of youth, sometimes also referred to as an irrational fear of adolescents or a prejudice against teenagers; and gerontophobia, the fear of elderly people.
Implicit Ageism is the term used to refer to the implicit or subconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors one has about older or younger people. These may be a mixture of positive and negative thoughts and feelings, but gerontologist Becca Levy reports that they “tend to be mostly negative.”
One way that implicit people with deficiencies in intellect, cognitive and physical performance, and other areas required for autonomous, daily functioning. People who engage in this type of speech treat older members of society as if they have regressed to an infantile state, or treat younger members of society as if they have never progressed beyond an infantile state.
Ageist stereotyping is a tool of cognition which involves categorizing into groups and attributing characteristics to these groups. Stereotypes are necessary for processing huge volumes of information which would otherwise overload a person, and they are often based on a "grain of truth" (for example, the association between aging and ill health). However, they cause harm when the content of the stereotype is incorrect with respect to most of the group or where a stereotype is so strongly held that it overrides evidence which shows that an individual does not conform to it. For example, age-based stereotypes prime one to draw very different conclusions when one sees an older and a younger adult with, say, back pain or a limp. One might well assume that the younger person’s condition is temporary and treatable, following an accident, while the older person’s condition is chronic and less susceptible to intervention. On average, this might be true, but plenty of older people have accidents and recover quickly and really young people (such as infants, toddlers and small children) can become permanently disabled in the same situation. This assumption may have no consequence if one makes it in the blink of an eye as one is passing someone in the street, but if it is held by a health professional offering treatment or managers thinking about occupational health, it could inappropriately influence their actions and lead to age-related discrimination. Another example is when people are rude to children because of their high pitched voice, even if they are kind and courteous. A review of the research literatuare related to age stereotypes in the workplace was recently published in the Journal of Management (Posthuma, R. A., & Campion, M. A. (2009). Age stereotyping in the workplace: Common stereotypes, moderators, and future research directions. Journal of Management, 35, 158–188).
Ageist prejudice is a type of emotion which is often linked to the cognitive process of stereotyping. It can involve the expression of derogatory attitudes, which may then lead to the use of discriminatory behavior. Where older or younger contestants were rejected in the belief that they were poor performers, this could well be the result of stereotyping. But older people were also voted for at the stage in the game where it made sense to target the best performers. This can only be explained by a subconscious emotional reaction to older people; in this case, the prejudice took the form of distaste and a desire to exclude oneself from the company of older people. (cf., Posthuma, Wagstaff, & Campion, (2012). Age Stereotypes and Workplace Age Discrimination: A Framework for Future Research. In J. W. Hedge, W. C. Borman (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook on Work and Aging. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 313-340.
Stereotyping and prejudice against different groups in society does not take the same form. Age-based prejudice and stereotyping usually involves older or younger people being pitied, marginalized, or patronized. This is described as "benevolent prejudice" because the tendency to pity is linked to seeing older or younger people as "friendly" but "incompetent." This is similar to the prejudice most often directed against women and disabled people. Age Concern’s survey revealed strong evidence of "benevolent prejudice." 48% said that over-70s are viewed as friendly (compared to 27% who said the same about under-30s). Meanwhile, only 26% believe over-70s are viewed as capable (with 41% saying the same about under-30s).
"Hostile prejudice" based on hatred, fear, aversion, or threat often characterizes attitudes linked to race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. An example of hostile prejudice toward youth is when someone presumes that a young person committed a crime without any evidence. Rhetoric regarding intergenerational competition can be motivated by politics. Violence against vulnerable older people can be motivated by subconscious hostility or fear; or, within families, by impatience and lack of understanding. Equality campaigners are often wary of drawing comparisons between different forms of inequality. But it is unquestionably true that abuse and neglect experienced by vulnerable older people (which is closely linked to hostile prejudice) kills more people each year than the shocking but relatively isolated cases of public violence motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The impact of "benevolent" and "hostile" prejudice tends to be different. The warmth felt towards older or younger people and the knowledge that many have no access to paid employment means there is often public acceptance that they are deserving of preferential treatment—for example, less expensive movie and bus fares. But the perception of incompetence means older and younger people can be seen as "not up to the job" or "a menace on the roads," when there is little or exaggerated evidence to support this. Prejudice also leads to assumptions that it is "natural" for older or younger people to have lower expectations, reduced choice and control, and less account taken of their views.
Age discrimination refers to the actions taken to deny or limit opportunities to people on the basis of age. These are usually actions taken as a result of one’s ageist beliefs and attitudes. Age discrimination occurs on both a personal and institutional level.
On a personal level, an older person may be told that he or she is too old to engage in certain physical activities, like an informal game of basketball between friends and family. A younger person may be told they are too young to get a job or help move the dining room table. On an institutional level, there are policies and regulations in place that limit opportunities to people of certain ages and deny them to all others. The law, for instance, requires that all young persons must be at least 16 years old in order to obtain a driver’s license in the United States. There are also government regulations that determine when a worker may retire. Currently, in the US, a worker must be 67 years old before becoming eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, but some company pension plans begin benefits at earlier ages.
A 2006/2007 survey done by the Children's Rights Alliance for England and the National Children's Bureau asked 4,060 children and young people whether they have ever been treated unfairly based on various criteria (race, age, sex, sexual orientation, etc.). A total of 43% of British youth surveyed reported experiencing discrimination based on their age, far eclipsing other categories of discrimination like sex (27%), race (11%), or sexual orientation (6%).
Ageism has significant effects in two particular sectors: employment and health care.
The concept of Ageism was originally developed to refer to prejudice and discrimination against older people and middle age, but has expanded to include children and teenagers.
Like racial and gender discrimination, age discrimination, at least when it affects younger workers, can result in unequal pay for equal work. Unlike racial and gender discrimination, however, age discrimination in wages is often enshrined in law. For example, in both the United States and the United Kingdom 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. Midlife workers, on average, make more than younger workers do, which reflects educational achievement and experience of various kinds (job-specific, industry-specific, etc.). The age-wage peak in the United States, according to Census data, is between 45 and 54 years of age. Seniority in general accords with respect as people age, lessening Ageism.
Statistical discrimination refers to limiting the employment opportunities of an individual based on stereotypes of a group to which the person belongs. Limited employment opportunities could come in the form of lower pay for equal work or jobs with little social mobility. Younger female workers were historically discriminated against, in comparison with younger men, because it was expected that, as young women of childbearing years, they would need to leave the work force permanently or periodically to have children.
Labor regulations also limit the age at which people are allowed to work and how many hours and under what conditions they may work. In the United States, a person must generally be at least 14 years old to seek a job, and workers face additional restrictions on their work activities until they reach age 16. Many companies refuse to hire workers younger than 18.
While older workers benefit more often from higher wages than do younger workers, they face barriers in promotions and hiring. Employers also encourage early retirement or layoffs disproportionately more for older or more experienced workers.
Age discrimination in hiring has been shown to exist in the United States. Joanna Lahey, professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, found that firms are more than 40% more likely to interview a young adult job applicant than an older job applicant.
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 racial discrimination. Dominic Abrams, social psychology professor at the university, concluded that Ageism is the most pervasive form of prejudice experienced in the UK population.
According to Dr. Robert M. McCann, an associate professor of management communication at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, denigrating older workers, even if only subtly, can have an outsized negative impact on employee productivity and corporate profits. For American corporations, age discrimination can lead to significant expenses. In Fiscal Year 2006, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 17,000 charges of age discrimination, resolving more than 14,000 and recovering $51.5 million in monetary benefits. Costs from lawsuit settlements and judgments can run into the millions, most notably with the $250 million paid by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) under a settlement agreement in 2003.
In the UK, age discrimination againist older people has been prohibited in employment since 2006. Since then, the number of age discrimination cases has risen dramatically. The laws protect the anyone over the age of 16 who is young as well as old. There were over 5,200 claims submitted to the Employment Tribunal in 2009/2010 compared to just 900 in 2006/2007 (immediately after the Regulations came in force).
Some political offices have qualifications that discriminate on the basis of age as a proxy for experience, education, or accumulated wisdom. For example, the President of the United States must be at least 35 years old; a United States Senator must be at least 30; and a United States Congressman must be at least 25.
There is considerable evidence of discrimination against the elderly in health care. This is particularly true for aspects of the physician-patient interaction, such as screening procedures, information exchanges, and treatment decisions. In the patient-physician interaction, physicians and other health care providers may hold attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are associated with Ageism against older patients. Studies have found that some physicians do not seem to show any care or concern toward treating the medical problems of older people. Then, when actually interacting with these older patients on the job, the doctors sometimes view them with disgust and describe them in negative ways, such as "depressing" or "crazy." For screening procedures, elderly people are less likely than younger people to be screened for cancers and, due to the lack of this preventative measure, less likely to be diagnosed at early stages of their conditions.
After being diagnosed with a disease that may be potentially curable, older people are further discriminated against. Though there may be surgeries or operations with high survival rates that might cure their condition, older patients are less likely than younger patients to receive all the necessary treatments. It has been posited that this is because doctors fear their older patients are not physically strong enough to tolerate the curative treatments and are more likely to have complications during surgery that may end in death. However, other studies have been done with patients with heart disease, and, in these cases, the older patients were still less likely to receive further tests or treatments, independent of the severity of their health problems. Thus, the approach to the treatment of older people is concentrated on managing the disease rather than preventing or curing it. This is based on the stereotype that it is the natural process of aging for the quality of health to decrease, and, therefore, there is no point in attempting to prevent the inevitable decline of old age.
Differential medical treatment of elderly people can have significant effects on their health outcomes, a differential outcome which somehow escapes established protections against Ageism.
Ageism has significant effects on the elderly and young people. The stereotypes and infantilization of older and younger people by patronizing language affects older and younger people’s self-esteem and behaviors. After repeatedly hearing a stereotype that older or younger people are useless, older and younger people may begin to feel like dependent, non-contributing members of society. They may start to perceive themselves in terms of the looking-glass self--that is, in the same ways that others in society see them. Studies have also specifically shown that when older and younger people hear these stereotypes about their supposed incompetence and uselessness, they perform worse on measures of competence and memory. These stereotypes then become self-fulfilling prophecies. According to Becca Levy's Stereotype Embodiment Theory, older and younger people may also engage in self-stereotypes, taking their culture’s age stereotypes—to which they have been exposed over the life course—and directing them inward toward themselves. Then this behavior reinforces the present stereotypes and treatment of the elderly.
Many overcome these stereotypes and live the way they want, but it can be difficult to avoid deeply ingrained prejudice, especially if one has been exposed to ageist views in childhood or adolescence.
Australia has had age discrimination laws for some time. The government strengthened these laws in 2011 and created the position of age discrimination commissioner, responsible for raising awareness among employers about the benefits that senior Australians as well as younger employees can make in the workforce.
In November 2011, the Nigerian House of Representatives considered a bill which would outlaw age discrimination in employment.
In the US, each state has its own laws regarding age discrimination, and there are also federal laws. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act forbids unlawful discrimination against persons age 40 and older. The FEHA is the principal California statute prohibiting employment discrimination, covering employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, apprenticeship programs and/or 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. Although there are many protections for age-based discrimination against older workers (as shown above) there are very few similar protections for younger workers.
Thirteen states define age as a specific motivation for hate crimes – California, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Vermont.
The federal government governs age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). 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. The ADEA applies even if some of the minimum 20 employees are overseas and working for a US corporation. Discrimination in this context can occur when the employer requires unfair terms, conditions, or privileges of employment such as those pertaining to hiring, firing, compensation, and benefits.
The United States federal government has responded to issues of youth-bias in governance through several measures in the past. They include the creation of the 1970s-era National Commission on Resources for Youth, which was created in the late 1960s as to promote youth participation throughout communities. Recently the federal government implemented the Tom Osborne Federal Youth Coordination Act, aiming to curb redundancy among federal service providers to youth.
The European citizenship provides the right to protection from discrimination on the grounds of age. According to Article 21-1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union s:Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union#CHAPTER III. EQUALITY, “any discrimination based on any ground such as (…) age, shall be prohibited”.
Additional protection against age discrimination comes from the Framework Directive 2000/78/EC. It prohibits discrimination on grounds of age in the field of employment.
On 18 August 2006, the General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG) came into force. The aim of the AGG is to prevent and abolish discrimination on various grounds including age.
A recent study suggested that youths in Germany feel the brunt of age discrimination.
In France, Articles 225-1 thru 225-4 of the Penal Code detail the penalization of Ageism, when it comes to an age discrimination related to the consumption of a good or service, to the exercise of an economic activity, to the labor market or an internship, except in the cases foreseen in Article 225-3.
In Belgium, the Law of 25 Feb 2003 “tending to fight discrimination” punishes Ageism when “a difference of treatment that lacks objective and reasonable justification is directly based on …. age”. Discrimination is forbidden when it refers to providing or offering a good or service, to conditions linked to work or employment, to the appointment or promotion of an employee, and yet to the access or participation in “an economic, social, cultural or political activity accessible to the public” (Article 2nd, § 4). Incitement to discrimination, to hatred or to violence against a person or a group on the grounds of (…) age (Article 6) is punished with imprisonment and/or a fine. Nevertheless, employment opportunities are worsening for people in their middle years in many of these same countries, according to Martin Kohli et al. in Time for Retirement (1991).
In the UK, laws against Ageism are new. Age discrimination laws were brought into force in October 2006, and can now be found in the Equality Act 2010. This implements the Equal Treatment Framework Directive 2000/78/EC and protects employees against direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. There is also provision in the Equality Act 2010 to prohibit age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, though this has not yet been implemented by the current UK Coalition Government and will not be implemented before October 2012 at the earliest.
Despite the relatively recent prohibition on age discrimination, there has already been many notable cases and official statistics show a 37% increase in claims in 2009/10 and a further 31% increase in 2010/11. Examples include the case involving Rolls Royce, the "Heyday" case brought by Age UK and the recent Miriam O'Reilly case against the BBC.
Recent research suggested that the number of age discrimination claims annually could reach 15,000 by 2015.
The European Social Study survey in 2011 revealed that nearly two out of five people claim to have been shown a lack of respect because of their age. The survey suggested that the UK is riven by intergenerational splits, with half of people admitting they do not have a single friend over 70; this compares with only a third of Portuguese, Swiss and Germans who say that they do not have a friend of that age or older. A Demos study in 2012 showed that three quarters of people in the UK believed there to be not enough opportunities for older and younger people to meet and work together.
The "Grey Pride" campaign has been advocating for a Minister for Older People and its campaign has had some success, with Labour Leader Ed Miliband appointing Liz Kendall as Shadow Minister for Older People.
The artist and mathematician Michael Freedman, an outspoken advocate against age discrimination within the art world says that "mature students, like me, come to art late in life, so why are we penalised and demotivated? Whatever happened to life long learning and the notion of a flexible workforce?"
Many current and historical intergenerational and youth programs have been created to address the issue of Ageism. Among the advocacy organizations created in the United Kingdom to challenge age discrimination are Age UK and the British Youth Council.
In the United States there have been several historic and current efforts to challenge Ageism. The earliest example may be the Newsboys Strike of 1899, which fought ageist employment practices targeted against youth by large newspaper syndicates in the Northeast. During the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was active in the national youth movement, including the formation of the National Youth Administration and the defense of the American Youth Congress. She made several statements on behalf of youth and against Ageism. In one report entitled, "Facing the Problems of Youth," Roosevelt said of youth,
Students for a Democratic Society formed in 1960 to promote democratic opportunities for all people regardless of age, and the Gray Panthers was formed in the early 1970s with a goal of eliminating Ageism in all forms. Three O'Clock Lobby formed in 1976 to promote youth participation throughout traditionally ageist government structures in Michigan, while Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor started in 1970 to promote youth and fight Ageism.
More recent U.S. programs include Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions, which formed in 1996 to advance the civil and human rights of young people through eliminating ageist laws targeted against young people, and to help youth counter Ageism in America. The National Youth Rights Association started in 1998 to promote awareness of the legal and human rights of young people in the United States, and the Freechild Project was formed in 2001 to identify, unify and promote diverse opportunities for youth engagement in social change by fighting Ageism.
In a recent interview, actor Pierce Brosnan cited Ageism as one of the contributing factors as to why he was not asked to continue his role as James Bond in the Bond film Casino Royale, released in 2006.
Also, successful singer and actress, Madonna spoke out in her 50s about Ageism and her fight to defy the norms of society. Similarly, Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall has also raised the issue of Ageism.
A 2007 Pew Research Center study found that a majority of American voters would be less likely to vote for a President past a given age, with only 45% saying that age would not matter.
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