Age discrimination has increasingly become a critical issue in organizations, the field of organizational behavior, and society as a whole. Age discrimination in the workplace is the unintentional or deliberate differential treatment of a person because to their age, often paired with negative aging stereotypes (Fisher, Truxillo, Finkelstein, & Wallace, 2015). For the purpose of this paper, I will be writing about age discrimination towards older adults. In their article, James, McKechnie, Swanberg, & Besen (2013) touch upon several studies to determine what is considered an “older worker”. A 20-year-old may believe it to be anyone over 30, while a 65-year-old employee may believe it to be anyone in their late seventies. An older worker is typically defined as anyone aged 55 years and older, as they are nearing the common retirement age (Munnell, Sass, & Soto, 2006).In this essay, I will first explain who is affected by age discrimination as well as who commits it.
I will then move into how people are affected by ageism and age discrimination, as well as how it can affect an organization. Furthermore, will touch upon where ageism stems from, and move into talking about organizational climate and how it influences age discrimination, either positively or negatively. (Alternative arguments?) Lastly, I will discuss widely recommended interventions for age discrimination, touch upon their critics, and eventually state and justify my preferred intervention.
In their article, Taylor, McLoughlin, Meyer, & Brooke (2013) reference studies that show among an age group of 55-64, 8% had experienced age discrimination, from negative attitudes to failure to find a job due to age discrimination. Taylor et al. (2013) reference another studied, which showed that those aged between 50 and 69, one in four individuals had experienced discrimination. Research by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that, of a group of community members and business representatives, 71% felt age discrimination occurs often, as well as a third of those 55 years or older reported they had experienced age discrimination (O’Loughlin, Kendig, Hussain, & Cannon, 2017). Another survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found, of the respondents, 44% 45 years or older stated their age was the most important barrier to employment, with the percentage increasing to 64% at ages 55+ (Encel, 1998). Additionally, a study by AARP shows that 67% of respondents believed age discrimination is present in the workplace (James et al., 2013).
Age discrimination can be committed by anyone, old or young, male or female, in positions of power or not. In organizations, many acts of age discrimination are committed by managers and those in higher power. As many Baby Boomers are still in the workforce, it is possible to find as many as four generations working in the same organization, which can often lead to age discrimination from the younger generations (King & Bryant, 2017). (More about who commits it)
Another aspect of age discrimination is gendered ageism. Arber and Ginn (1995) penned the term, describing when the systems of age and gender interact to influence job prospects for older-aged women. In her article, Krekula also cites Arber and Ginn when discussing how older women and men are examined on separate planes, women typically much harsher due to these intersecting planes. This lends itself to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of Intersectionality, the idea that different social categorizations, such as age and gender, create an overlapping system of discrimination towards older women (Crenshaw, 1989).
One major issue of age discrimination is the lack of occupational mobility, which is the ability to switch between occupations, fields, and jobs. Statistically, managers are more likely to favor younger candidates, and these aging stereotypes affect how decisions are made regarding hiring (Roscigno, Mong, Bryon, & Tester, 2007). Gringart (2015) states that characteristics managers believe make older adults inferior include adaptability, trainability, interest in technologies, and ambition. Gringart (2015) also shows that they are superior to younger employees as they are more loyal, reliable, and trustworthy. Not only is it difficult to get hired, but it is also difficult to re-enter the workforce after “unretirement”, the act of retiring, exiting the labor force, and then returning later for economic, psychological, or social reasons (Fisher et al., 2015; Maestas, 2010).
Difficulty in occupational mobility is not the only way older adults are affected by negative stereotypes. Once older adults are enter an organization, they can experience these negative stereotypes and discrimination that can be detrimental to the employee. These detriments can include being passed over for a promotion, forced retirement, patronizing language, speaking overly loudly or slowly and outwardly expressed negative attitudes, such as lack of flexibility, competency, and adaptability to technology (James et al., 2013). These negative age stereotypes can cause adverse psychological and physiological reactions for older adults, such as decreased cognitive performance, worsened memory, will-to-live, hearing and cardiovascular stress (King & Bryant, 2017).Age discrimination can also lead to consequences for the organization, as it can cause negative job satisfaction, attitudes, self-efficacy, and employee turnover rates (Taylor et al., 2013). In their study, King and Bryant (2017) found that it is crucial to maintain an intergenerational climate in the workplace. In their results, they state that “given that employee satisfaction is a key indicator of employee retention, productivity, and customer satisfaction (Reichheld, 1996), human resources professionals and decision makers would be wise to recognize that an employee’s views of the intergenerational climate of an organization impact her or his overall job satisfaction” (King & Bryant, 2017).There is no single source from which age discrimination stems. Oftentimes, stereotypes are governed by the majority of members in society who believe in those stereotypes. Therefore, these discriminatory stereotypes may inhibit true institutionalized change throughout a community. In Australia specifically, Davison (1995) believed that age discrimination began in the colonial era, where a majority of immigrants were below the age of 30, leaving anyone above that considered an older person. Davison (1995) also illuminates that Australia sees itself as a young country, compared to that of Britain. Ageism can also come from implicit bias, the theory that we have pervasive attitudes and stereotypes that subconsciously affect our actions, decisions, understanding, and perception of others (Kirwan Institute, n.d.).
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