Age discrimination is one of the most common forms of discrimination, along with gender, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and health. Anyone can experience age discrimination in his or her life, because, regardless of other individual characteristics, each of us constantly interacts with people of different ages, and the age factor always affects the relationship between people.
What is discrimination?
According to the Cambridge dictionary, discrimination is treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way than the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin color, sex, sexuality, etc.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gives the following types of discrimination:
- Equal Pay/Compensation;
- Genetic Information;
- National Origin;
- Sexual Harassment.
Ageism as a form of discrimination
According to the World Health Organization, ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. It can lead to the marginalization of older people within communities and have negative impacts on their health and well-being.
Types of age discrimination
Equality and Human Rights Commission divides age discrimination into four types:
Direct discrimination happens when someone treats you worse than another person in a similar situation because of your age.
For example, a guest house owner charges twice her normal rates for people under 21. She hopes it will deter young people from booking because a few have caused damage recently.
Indirect discrimination happens when an organization has a particular policy or way of working that applies to everyone but which puts people of your age group at a disadvantage.
For example, an optician allows customers to pay for their glasses by installments, provided they are in employment. This could indirectly discriminate against older people, who are less likely to be working.
Harassment occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.
For example, during a training session at work, the trainer keeps commenting on how slow an older employee is at learning how to use a new software package because of his age. The employee finds this distressing. This could be considered harassment related to age.
This is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of age discrimination under the Equality Act.
It can also occur if you are supporting someone who has made a complaint of age discrimination.
For example, your colleague complains of being called a “wrinkly” at work. You help them complain to your manager. Your manager treats you badly as a result of getting involved.
Where can a person experience ageism?
Although ageism is often seen as a workplace issue, a person may face it when he or she is out shopping, at the doctor’s surgery, or even when ordering products and services over the phone.
Age UK gives some examples of ageism which include the following:
- losing a job because of your age;
- being refused interest-free credit, a new credit card, car insurance or travel insurance because of your age;
- receiving a lower quality of service in a shop or restaurant because of the organization’s attitude to older people;
- being refused a referral from a doctor to a consultant because you are “too old;”
- being refused membership to a club or trade association because of your age.
Origins of ageism
Andrew Achenbaum in his article called “A History of Ageism Since 1969” says that the term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert N. Butler, M.D., who headed the District of Columbia Advisory Committee on Aging. In partnership with the National Capital Housing Authority (NCHA), Butler used the term “age-ism” during a Washington Post interview conducted by then cub reporter Carl Bernstein. The Post story, “Age and race fears are seen in housing opposition,” described the apprehension of homeowners in Chevy Chase, Maryland, an affluent Washington, D.C., suburb, who were distressed by the NCHA’s decision to turn an apartment complex into public housing. The project was intended to offer residences for the elderly poor—including African Americans—and was opposed by residents who feared Chevy Chase would never be the same.
“Butler was not the first to identify a seemingly universal, widespread contempt for old people. Negative attitudes toward age and aging have been, and remain, deeply rooted in global history. Men and women who no longer could contribute to communal survival in Neolithic cultures were cast aside, often left to die. “Senectus morbidus est” (“Old age is a disease”), the philosopher Seneca (4 BC−AD 65) said,” continues Achenbaum.
“By associating late life with disease and death, generations down the ages have justified the futility of granting the aged access to care. Ageism is ubiquitous—evident in places as far-flung and with different cultures as Japan and east Africa—and embedded in Western culture. The Roman poet Juvenal’s Satires mock impotent and priapic septuagenarian satyrs alike. Unflattering imagery, like that in Keats’ poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” permeates more modern works. It is no wonder that post-World War II researchers, sampling respondents’ attitudes about old people, reported stereotypically negative responses to age and aging,” sums up the author.
Worldwide statistics of ageism
According to the Encyclopedia of Gerontology and Population Aging, it is widely recognized that ageism can be experienced by people on the grounds of being perceived as too young as well as too old. However, much of the research on ageism around the world has focused on ageism expressed toward and experienced by individuals on the basis of their perceived old age.
Recent data from 20,788 adults aged 16–64 from 30 countries around the world revealed that 23 percent of the respondents agreed that older people are treated unfairly and that globally 60 percent of respondents reported that older adults are not well respected.
Surveys assessing people’s direct experiences of ageism revealed some variation between people’s experiences in different countries. For instance, data from the 2006 Health and Retirement Survey – a longitudinal panel of US nationally representative individuals over the age of 50 – revealed that 29.8 percent of respondents reported experiencing age discrimination in everyday life.
“Perceived Age Discrimination across Age in Europe: from an Ageing Society to a Society for All Ages” survey explored experiences across age groups to get a clearer picture of the prevalence of ageism for respondents who belong to different age groups. In 14 of the 28 countries (Romania, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, France, Portugal, and Hungary), perceived age discrimination was higher among the youngest and dropped steadily with increasing age (except Hungary.)
Interestingly, this pattern of results contradicts the common assumption that older people are the foremost targets of age discrimination. In nearly all of the remaining countries, the pattern of results showed perceived age discrimination to be higher among the youngest respondents but also relatively high among older respondents. Data from some countries indicated the following countries with the highest levels of perceived age discrimination among the oldest respondents: the Czech Republic, Russia, Cyprus, Greece.
Who mostly experience age discrimination: men or women?
Aging Equal study informs that older women face the accumulated effects of ageism and sexism in several areas of their lives including employment and retirement, health and insurance sectors. While poverty rates among men and women do not differ much during working life, the difference increases after age 65, and even more so after age 75. Reasons for this are life-long differences in pay and working time, different pension ages for men and women, and the fact that older women live longer and most often alone.
According to a 2011 survey conducted among 2,880 women across five European countries, 28 percent of older women surveyed had experienced some kind of violence or abuse in the previous 12 months.
Ageism at work
Lindsey Cook in her article called “Ageism in the Workplace ‘Starts at 40’ for Women” states that ageism at work began at 40 for women and 45 for men.
In the UK, age is a “protected characteristic” in the same way as gender, race or sexual orientation. By law, you should not suffer discrimination because you are too old, too young, or even too middle-aged. Unfortunately, some employers pay little heed to this in the knowledge that the risk of legal action is small.
Research by the Centre for Ageing Better (CfAB) in September indicated the size of the problem. Nearly half of those over 50 thought that their age would disadvantage them if they applied for a new job and a third thought there were fewer opportunities for training and progression with their existing company.
Yet skills shortages are changing attitudes to ageism, and many employers are beginning to question their recruitment policies.
Campaign against ageism
We live in a world where people are denied their rights, simply because of their age. This must change!
A Week of Global Action against Ageism took place on September 30 – October 6, 2019. Its key message is: being treated equally is a prerequisite to participating in society and having the chances and health to do so.
Age Demands Action campaigners across the world are taking a stand against ageism by highlighting how widespread it is and how it leads to the discrimination, stereotyping and abuse of older people everywhere. Anyone may take a stand against ageism on the Help Age International site.
Ageism in Ukraine
Vasyl Kostrytsya, the State Employment Service consultant, highlights that the cult of ageism, which is observed in Ukraine, results in discrimination against the elderly in many spheres of public life. The problem of ageism is often considered in the context of human or elderly human rights violations in the area of employment – during hiring or firing.
According to the national survey conducted by the SocioLogist research bureau with support of the European Commission, one in three Ukrainians acknowledges employment discrimination, especially age discrimination, despite the Ukrainian employment legislation. Thus, according to Article 21 of the Labor Code, “any discrimination in workplace work is prohibited, including violation of the principle of equal rights and opportunities, direct or indirect restriction of employees’ rights depending on race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social and foreign origin, age etc.”
Vasyl Kostrytsya considers that in Ukraine there have been some changes for the better in the perception of older people on the labor market. Thus, according to official statistics, a positive indicator of at least a slight increase in the number of employed people aged 60+ has been observed in recent years.
The author compares the data of six months of 2018 with the corresponding period of 2019 where it’s clearly seen that there was an increase in the number of employees among elderly people (almost 180,000) in the fields of services, trade, education and health care.
According to the Public Employment Service (PES), during eight months of 2020, the state employment service helped to employ 58,000 unemployed in the 50+ age group. In order to stimulate the job placement of people who are not competitive enough in the labor market, the legislation provides compensation to the employer for their employment in a new job. It will be paid monthly for one year from the date of the person’s employment, provided that his / her employment is maintained for two years. In January-August 2019, with the provision of compensation to employers, the PES employed 1,600 people of the 50+ age category.
How do Ukrainians resist ageism?
Ageism, in particular against women, was eloquently, harshly and cynically presented at the Equality Festival. In “Tyapkina in the Landfill” performance amateur actors played a very typical discriminatory situation – how a person is humiliated because of age.
Iryna, a good-looking woman, shares her likes and dreams with the audience. She is wearing red lipstick, high-hilled shoes, she likes getting compliments from men, her goal is to learn English that will help her freely travel and communicate with people.
She was constantly criticized by three women. For each wish she expressed to grow socially, physically and intellectually, the woman was ridiculed only because she was a little over 50.
During the performance, Iryna was insulted: her high-heeled shoes were taken off and changed into felt boots, her lipstick was wiped off her lips, her head was tied with a dark dirty scarf and she was dressed in a sweatshirt.
And literally in a few minutes, the slender beautiful blonde was turned into a rude, tired, sick and untidy woman. In the end, she was thrown into a landfill.
Iryna Tyapkina, a psychologist, who played a leading role in the performance, admitted that it was her real story. She was refused to get a job when she was 40. It was a shock to her. She currently works as a psychologist and helps other women and men to overcome a lack of confidence and get rid of negativity and to realize that age should not interfere with work, hobbies or desires.
According to the psychologist, the problem of age discrimination in Ukraine is extremely common. But people should not pay attention to comments on how he or she should be dressed or act in this or that situation.
The Equality Festival took place in Kyiv in December 2014. It aims to build a cultural platform to create a space free of discrimination, prejudice and hierarchy. It is opened to the artistic understanding of social processes, social art and art activism in the context of human rights protection and giving a voice to different communities.
The event was organized by the Coalition against Discrimination in Ukraine and the Insight NGO in partnership with the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, with the support of the Renaissance International Foundation and the Heinrich Böll Foundation Representation in Ukraine.
How to resist ageism in Ukraine where age discrimination starts at 35? Kharkiv Observer correspondent talked to Natalia Korol, the HR director at Krusche and Company GmbH, about how to deal with this issue.
Kharkiv Observer: Tell our readers a little about yourself, please
Natalia Korol: I’m 38. I have been working at HR for 15 years.
Kh.O.: When did you become aware of ageism problems? What event prompted this?
N.K.: During a period of 15 years I have clearly seen there is age discrimination in Ukraine and in other countries as well. But I faced it myself when I turned 36. At this time, I was looking for a job. Most vacancies had an age limit of up to 35 years. A few days later when I turned 36, I saw a vacancy with a limit up to 35. They were looking for an HR director. I was very outraged because I really did not understand what has changed in me during this year and why I can’t apply for this position.
Kh.O.: Did the employer argument this age restriction?
N.K.: Yes, they explained in the ad they had a very young team. So, should I have already considered myself old?
Kh.O.: Was this occasion a turning point for you?
N.K.: That’s true. I wrote a post on Facebook concerning this issue which garnered thousands of likes, hundreds of comments and private messages within a month. After that the idea to create such online support for people over 35 who were looking for a job arose. Up to that time, I had not realized the scale of a problem as it can be called a real disaster in our country.
Kh.O.: Why did you make a decision to create the group on Facebook?
N.K.: After spending a month reading hundreds of stories where people told they were refused jobs because of their age, I realized that something should be done. As a result, I decided to create a group that I called “Best Age.” Currently, vacancies without age limit are published in this group. Also, experts and career officers give advice to applicants.
Kh.O.: When was your group created? Who are its moderators? Who funds the group?
N.K.: It was created in 2017. I’m a group’s administrator, Olha Ibrahimova and Olha Kholodionova are its moderators. Both of them work at HR. Nobody funds it. We work on a voluntary basis.
Kh.O.: How many people have subscribed to your Facebook page?
N.K.: About 3,500 people have been subscribed to our page so far.
Kh.O.: Have you ever experienced problems with gaining employment due to maintaining your group?
N.K.: I was refused a job once as an HR manager told me I made a big deal out of this problem.
Kh.O.: Where is this issue observed the most: in cities or in the regions?
N.K.: It’s definitely in the regions as there are fewer positions, especially in small towns and villages.
Kh.O.: Can you bring the statistics on age discrimination?
N.K.: According to Ukrainian job search websites surveys, eight out of 10 people experienced ageism while looking for jobs. There are not any official statistics because very few people are ready to share this problem with others. Sometimes the age issue is only an excuse as a person was refused by other criteria. So falsely discriminatory rejection should be taken into account as well.
Kh.O.: Do current Ukrainian laws protect from ageism?
N.K.: Despite the ban on age discrimination which is guaranteed by the law, you can observe age restrictions in ads on any job search website. As far as I know, there is not any legal action concerning age discrimination. Obviously, the employer thinks he or she is invulnerable. So, this law is violated in real life.
Kh.O.: Who suffers more from ageism: men or women? Why?
N.K.: It’s obvious women suffer more from age discrimination because office jobs are mostly affected by ageism. According to my observations, if we refer to such office jobs as a marketer, headhunter or secretary, they are mostly performed by women. Many blue-collar jobs such as locksmith or welder are considered to be men’s jobs. That’s why handymen are less susceptible to age discrimination.
Kh.O.: Natalia, in your opinion, why are office jobs more vulnerable to age discrimination?
N.K.: It happens because there are more options when employers can make a choice and they are influenced by stereotypes. What is more, there is a wide variety of applicants for each position. If we talk about trade jobs, there are few options so applicants are less vulnerable to age discrimination.
Kh.O.: At what age does it become harder to find a job?
N.K.: People after 40 often struggle to find work, especially women. They even have to attach their photos to CVs in order to persuade an employer that they don’t look old. I’m from Kryvyi Rih though I currently live in Kyiv. I know many 40-year-old women from Kryvyi Rih who left for Poland as they could not find skilled jobs in Ukraine.
Kh.O.: Are there any reasons when a person could be refused from getting a job due to the fact that he or she has not kept pace with today’s labor market?
N.K.: Of course, as ageism is a double-side problem: there are stereotypes from employers but older applicants hardly understand modern labor market rules. So, candidates should be informed and educated about new conditions. The time when a person could get a job and has worked there for 40 years has passed away. People after 40 should compete with youth and show the achievements they have gained during their careers. These people have a big problem with self-presentation as it used to be embarrassing to show their merits in Soviet times.
Kh.O.: Can age discrimination be observed among the younger generation?
N.K.: For sure! Rise of Ukrainian employees’ professional life is at the age of 25-35. People who belong to other age groups experience difficulties maintaining employment. For example, an 18-year-old employee could be refused a job due to the fact it’s his or her first job. Ukrainians often face gender discrimination but it’s rarely discussed. In my opinion, it happens because women aren’t ready to fight for their rights. Firstly, a woman could be refused because she could go on maternity leave, then she would be rejected because the woman has small kids who are often ill. Finally, she would not be able to get a job because she doesn’t have children or she is not married.
Kh.O.: Natalia, in your opinion, why is this problem so common in our country?
N.K.: There are lots of reasons. If we talk about the business it depends on the young age and immaturity of the company’s management. As for the IT sphere, I met 25-year-old business owners and it’s obvious that they look at people 45+ as if they were dinosaurs. Ukrainian business as well as its managers is rather young. They are about 35 and they are wary of those who are 10 and more years older than they are. What is more, Soviet stereotypes are still very strong. A 45-year-old woman was associated with Babette’s hairstyle, golden teeth carrying heavy bags in both hands in those times. This image has not been observed for the last 30 years but the stereotype is still existing. To conclude, our government does nothing to sort out this problem.
Kh.O.: Can appearance be the reason for the refusal to hire an applicant?
N.K.: Definitely! The following issues like being overweight, problems with appearance or health reduce a person’s chance to get a job.
Kh.O.: Which profession is discriminated against the least?
N.K.: I would say, it’s an accountant. For example, the chief accountant aged 50 is perfectly OK.
Kh.O.: What could be done to break a vicious circle?
N.K.: I consider that social advertising campaigns should be run. Also, ageism problems should be widely discussed. All of this would lead to a change in people’s minds.
Kh.O.: What are your future plans?
N.K.: I’m skeptical about ageism issues. I think neither my group nor me can influence the current situation. Having worked at HR for 15 years, I realize that I will be 45 one day and I have no idea how I can find a job then. Anyway, I’m glad that we were able to contribute to solving this issue. We’ve made a difference by helping even a few people.
Kh.O.: What would you like to wish our readers?
N.K.: You should fight for yourself, defend your rights, continue lifelong learning and be capable to compete in the labor market. I would highlight that it’s very important not to be silent and to talk about the problem.
All Ukrainian recruiters or labor market analysts unanimously declare: the problem of ageism should be solved comprehensively and requires efforts from both employers and applicants. However, the state must also enforce regulations, so that there is no outright discrimination. In particular, the employer must know that such violations will be punished more severely than a fine of several hundred UAH and the matter will be publicized.
The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.
Text: Natalia Ivanova
Photo: blogs.timesofisrael.com, reputationtoday.in, .aarp.org, skillroads.com, newyorker.com, Goldvoice club, Natalia Korol