Age and Discrimination – Ageism

Age and Discrimination – Ageism (agism), is defined as prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. Though ageism can occur on the other end of the age spectrum, I will address age and discrimination and the older adult for this article.

After reaching a certain age, have you noticed a change in how you are treated? Maybe you’ve been looked over for a new job or a new position at your current job. Maybe a sideways look at the gym makes you feel like you shouldn’t even be there. Has a doctor commented, “you’re not as young as you once were?” What about age-related jokes? These are all examples of ageism. If these examples had been brought about with a different population segment, it would be treated with contempt and outrage. But for some reason, age and discrimination seem to be acceptable.

So many times when you hear of someone describing a senior, you may hear: cranky, bad driver, feeble, rude, grumpy, slow, geezer, technically illiterate, ultra-conservative, stay off my grass kind of guy. Occasionally, you may hear some positive descriptions such as wise or nice, but more often than not, it is a negative stereotype description that is used. I argue that though these descriptions, both positive and negative, can be true of someone older, they can also be used to describe a younger person.

Job Discrimination and Age – Do They Go Hand in Hand?

Age and Discrimination - Age Discrimination in the Workplace

I believe we have all heard of the familiar story: Two people equally qualified to apply for the same job or promotion, and it is awarded to the younger applicant. What about the loyal older worker who has been preparing for a much-anticipated promotion. He has been on time, rarely calls out sick, taken on learning as much as he can, volunteered to work the holidays, yet he is looked over, and the promotion goes to the younger, relatively new hire. And then what about the one who is getting close to retirement and, out of the blue, is fired. These are all examples of ageism in the workplace.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Ageism and Age Discrimination are not new phenomenon. In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law what is known as The Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This act is also known as ADEA.

Age and Discrimination - Age Discrimination in Employment Act

This is a US labor law that prohibits discrimination regarding employment and anyone over the age of 40. ADEA applies to those who employ at least twenty employees on a regular basis within the current or prior calendar year.

What does The Age Discrimination in Employment Act address?

  • Prohibits discrimination in hiring, pay, promotions, layoffs, and termination based on age.
  • Prohibits specifying an age preference or limitations.
  • Prohibits denying benefits to older employees. However, an employer may reduce benefits based on age if, by doing so, it has the same cost of providing full benefits to a younger worker.
  • In an amendment in 1986, in most situations, mandatory retirement is prohibited. However, mandatory retirement is allowed for:
    • Those executives who are over the age of 65 and are in a high policy-making position and who are entitled to a pension over a minimum yearly amount.

For a more in-depth look at ADEA, the US Equal Opportunity Commission has the full Act listed at

Though this law has been in place for over 30 years, has it served its purpose? Is age discrimination in the workplace obsolete? Though it has helped a great deal, it has not eliminated the issue. And though this behavior is not legal, it can be hard to prove any wrongdoing. It is in the hands of the employee to prove that the injustice was due to age. If brought to court, could the employer have another just cause? Could they say the layoff, firing, or not be chosen for the promotion was for another reason? Possibly.

Can You Win?

Though the odds of winning a case in court are low, it is not unheard of.

Forbes has reported the following case:

“…Debra Moreno of Maui, a 54-year-old office coordinator of a Honolulu-based health care company, won a $193,236 judgment in U.S. District Court. Despite excellent ratings by her manager as a thorough and efficient worker, Moreno was fired in 2008. She subsequently learned that the company’s owner had made disparaging remarks to other employees about her, saying that she looked “like a bag of bones” and “sounds old on the telephone.” Those remarks helped Moreno win her suit.

If you have experienced age discrimination in the job arena and decide you want to take further legal action, it can take not only a monetary toll on your finances it can also take an enormous emotional toll as well. If you decide to take this route, be sure to consult with a qualified attorney or representative.

Age Discrimination and Everyday Life

What about ageism in everyday life? How can we address that? We need to bring together multiple generations. Show by example, not verbally, that these stereotypes aren’t true for all seniors. If you go to a gym, don’t let the naysayers stop you. Go in proud and let them see how strong you are.

A few examples of older adults who didn’t let looks from others stop them from the gym:

Tao Porchon-Lynch –

Tao Porchon-Lynch – An amazing woman who was still teaching yoga 5-6 times a week when she was 100 years old.

Age and Discrimination - Tao-Porchon-Lynch-from-wikipedia
Tao Porchon-Lynch
Age and Discrimination - Ernestine Shepherd
Ernestine Shepard

Ernestine “Ernie” Shepherd – at age 79, was a personal trainer and a competitive bodybuilder.

And even if you don’t have your eyes set on becoming competitive, don’t let the sideway glances or looks keep you back from exercising, and who knows, you might even meet a friend or two.

And the doctor who says, “you’re not as young as you once, “were well, that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know. But if you believe something is wrong or you’re not feeling right, don’t let him/her brush it off to age. If he/she continues down this road, maybe it’s time to find a new doctor that takes your concerns seriously and not just chalk them up to age.

Don’t Be Held Back

Age and Discrimination – Ageism, like all discrimination, is wrong on so many levels. Even though we can’t quickly change all society and how they view older adults, we can show people by example that not all seniors are the same, and most don’t deserve the stereotypical description.

Have you had any experience with age and discrimination? Please comment below. I would love to hear from you.

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