Ageing and life-course

Ageism in the workplace

Employers often have negative attitudes towards older workers. Age discrimination persists even though older workers are not necessarily less healthy, less educated, less skilful or productive than their younger counterparts. Older women face particular challenges in employment because of their sex and age.

Strategies to combat ageism can increase opportunities for intergenerational teams, and introducing campaigns to challenge the myths and inaccurate stereotypes that hinder older people’s ability to participate.

A number of studies have focused on exposing young people to older adults in order to combat negative stereotypes. Exposure to positive examples of older workers can improve implicit beliefs about older adults. An intervention that provided information about the myths and realities of ageing, which was followed by a discussion about ageism aimed at changing attitudes, was found to successfully change younger people’s perceptions about ageing. Extended contact has been found to decrease negative attitudes and to moderate perceptions.

Anti-discrimination laws

In addition numerous high- and middle-income countries have implemented anti-discrimination laws to combat ageism in the workplace. For example, for countries within the European Union, the Employment Equality Framework Directive 2000/78/EC aims to combat discrimination in the workplace that is based on disability, sexual orientation, religion and age, and all European Union member states are required to implement this in their national laws.

The United States, which has one of the highest rates of labour participation among people older than 65 years, has some of the strongest antidiscrimination laws and enforcement; for example, the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination against people aged 40 years and older. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, have gone so far as to proactively screen vacancy announcements to prevent age discrimination.

Abolish mandatory retirement ages

Age is not a reliable indicator when judging a worker’s potential productivity or employability. The OECD has recommended the eventual elimination of all mandatory retirement policies in order to benefit workers, employers and economies. Many countries, including those that have increased workforce participation among older people, still have mandatory retirement ages or support industries with mandatory retirement ages.

Organizations of the United Nations also have mandatory retirement ages. Policies enforcing mandatory retirement ages do not help create jobs for youth, as was initially envisaged, but they reduce older workers’ ability to contribute and reduce an organization’s opportunities to benefit from the capabilities and experience of older workers.