A UN report last year called Ageism “last acceptable “ism””, yet it’s the only form of discrimination that, in time, comes to everyone in some form or another. Ageism is sometimes referred to as a ‘leveller’ but you don’t have to dig too deep to discover that ageism is comprised of inequalities of its own.
We already know, for example, that racial and ethnic minority groups are likely to enter old age in poorer health and at greater risk of vulnerability due to life-long differential treatments and that, when persons with disabilities get older, or when older persons face disabilities, they are more likely to receive low standards of care and support. (aging-equal.org).
But for certain groups, there are studies suggesting that age can been see as a sign of being trustworthy and experienced ; one report in America finding that individuals are most likely to pick out the older white male as their choice for a financial adviser.
Women working in the media industry have been saying for years that TV has ‘a problem with older women’. Former BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly won a case for age discrimination after she was dropped from Countryfile, Radio 4’s Libby Purves spoke out in the Radio Times about the numerous experienced female TV and radio presenters the BBC has quietly replaced with younger alternatives, and Liz Kershaw also spoke out about how she was sacked from BBC Radio 6 Music, she believes, because she is over 60.
Ageism can also affect younger people and even children! Younger employees can be perceived as lazy, less reliable, less conscientious, less organised, selfish and poorly motivated because of their age (1). Another study from the States suggested that Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime. (2)
Are Companies Doing Enough?
Under the Equality Act, everyone is supposed to be protected from age discrimination in all aspects of employment, including recruitment, however, as recently as last year a workingwise.co.uk survey found that over two fifths of older workers have experienced ageism at work, with the recruitment process being the worst offender.
(1) Finkelstein et al., 2013; Bertolino et al., 2012
(2) “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology