Most people can expect to live to age 60 or older in today’s world. Thanks to advances in medicine, the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to reach 2.1 billion by 2050, up from 900 million in 2015. At the same time, women are having fewer children than before. Increased longevity is generally seen as a good thing for individuals, families, and societies. However, the rapidly aging world population has brought to the fore a number of challenges that older people face. One of them is ageism.
The term “ageism” has been around for more than 50 years. It refers to discrimination against individuals or groups because of their age. Like sexism or racism, it’s linked to stereotypes and prejudices about people of a certain age. For example, it is often assumed older people are weak and, therefore, a burden on employers and society as a whole. Even when mature employees want to continue working or reenter the workforce, they are seen as incompetent or unproductive.
As the World Health Organization points out, ageist views are common in many societies, and ageism may be even more widespread than sexism and racism. Both young and mature individuals can receive unfavorable treatment as a result of their age. However, much of the concern relates to older people, especially in the area of employment. The impact of ageism is wide-ranging since individuals, businesses, and entire countries can suffer as a result.
The Realities of Age Discrimination
Views of aging vary by culture, but ageism can be found in both developed and developing countries. According to senior health adviser in the WHO’s Department of Ageing and Life Course, Alana Officer, attitudes toward old peoplegenerally tend to be negative. Getting older is seen as being synonymous with decline.
Deputy Director of Equinet Europe, Tamás Kádár, says Europe lacks comprehensive legislation to deal with age discrimination. Even when laws exist, he notes that this type of discrimination is seen as less significant than others. Kádár points to commonly held beliefs that older people should stop working. He also draws attention to how age-based algorithms often result in older people being denied access to credit cards and travel insurance.
Still, Kádár points out that most of the cases that Equinet’s members receive relate to employment. Companies either dismiss employees on account of their age or refuse to hire them. He notes that while it’s easy to measure age, it’s often not a good reason to refuse employment. Given how pervasive stereotypes about age are, Kádár said it’s a significant achievement that people see age discrimination as a real problem.
Shining a Spotlight on Age Discrimination
Governments, companies, and individuals are beginning to view the situation through a different lens. There are multiple organizations around the world devoting resources to tackling ageism. These include the Global Ageing Network, HelpAge, The European Union’s Equinet for Employment Fairness and The International Longevity Centre (ILC) Global Alliance.
The first global report on ageism is expected to be launched on March 18, 2021. It is a joint effort by WHO and its global partners aimed at launching a Global Campaign to Combat Ageism. One article highlighted the main reasons why WHO needs to tackle ageism:
- It’s ubiquitous, strongly institutionalized across the globe, and socially accepted
- It’s linked to poor physical and mental health, slower recovery from illness, and a shorter lifespan
- It helps to shape social values, research, and policy
Curbing ageism is essential for intergenerational bonds and the creation of a world that benefits people of all ages. While a lot has to be done at the policymaking level, businesses have an important role to play in ensuring that the rights of mature workers are upheld.
Let Your Organization Be Part of the Solution
Ageism is so common that it often goes unnoticed. However, companies lose out when they overlook mature talent and allow “the drift” to set in. In contrast, there are several social and economic advantages to hiring and embracing 50-plus employees. If you want to examine your organization’s current policies and practices and take steps to become more age-inclusive, WiseForce Advisors can help you.
We can provide the assessments and solutions you need to adjust to today’s aging workforce. We offer an Age Management Readiness Questionnaire that will measure your ability to manage a multi-generational workforce as well as Corporate Awareness Sessions aimed at identifying and fixing age-related issues in the organization. We also provide Age Management Workshops for Managers. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a consultation.