Ageism: The Newest Big Discrimination
With the baby boomers moving into their sixties, there is now a greater amount of older people in the work force than in any time in history. With the life expectancy of people getting higher than ever before, more people are working into their seventies and eighties and it is causing a discrimination that has never been seen before. In past generations, people worked their 30 years at a job and retired with a paid off mortgage, and lived on their social security benefits. Times have changed and with the cost of living rising, social security benefits are not keeping up with that increase.
My first knowledge of this change came about five years ago. Some people started at my company at the age of 17, so they were only 47 when they reached their 30th anniversary. My company was downsizing, and I started to hear comments from the younger generation about people who should be leaving after their thirty years. Well not many people can or want to retire at the age of 47. They were a far way off from being eligible for their pension or social security, but the younger generations does not understand that and the elder generation was questioned often about why they were still there.
Companies have also contributed to the change in why people are working so much longer. In past years, the company gave their employees a nice pension that supplemented their social security benefits. Most companies have gotten away from this, and people are now expected to start their own 401K and supplement their own benefits. Companies no longer provide the health benefits that they once did, and the cost has continued to rise, causing more people to have to stay in the work force. In addition to all these factors, a lot of older people really like to work.
The US census from 2002 till 2006 shows an increase in the amount of people over 65. With the baby boomers reaching this age in the next five years, this increase will show a dramatic change by the year 2020. The census shows a 14-15 million increase in population from 2002 until 2006. 13% of this increase is people over the age of 65. Estimates predict this percent will more than double by the year 2020. My city, Westerville Ohio, shows that 10% of the population is over 65.
64% of our congress is over 60 years old. That means for the most part, our country trusts older people to run our country. Only 6% is under the age of 50. This brings up the question of why there is so much discrimination in other areas of employment.
When the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, it protected people from being discriminated against for many reasons such as color or sex, but age was not included and it was determined that a study was needed to see if a law was needed. The first law that was passed on age discrimination was “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces this law. This law protects people over the age of 40, and it was amended in 1978 to protect people up till the age of 70. In O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation, ageism took a step forward as it was ruled that an employee does not have to show that they were replaced by a younger person to prove age discrimination.
In 2003 , the “EEOC wins the biggest age discrimination settlement in U.S. history, recovering $250 million in back pay for 1,700 public safety officers in California in EEOC and Arnett et al. v. CalPERS. As important as the financial win is to the plaintiffs, the case also focuses attention on the growing problem of age discrimination in the workplace and gives a boost to the EEOC.” 1
The EEOC has been very successful in protecting the rights of people based on age. With the passing of the Age Discrimination Act, the rights of older people were included in their cause. The AARP, or The American Association for Retired Persons, also fights for the quality of life for people over 50. The AARP has local chapters in every state. They also have a monthly magazine that addresses issues that older people face.
There is no group that actively opposes old people. It has just become a way of life with the changes in society that cause older people to work longer and younger people to get laid off. The government keeps upping the age of Social Security benefits, so this issue will continue. A person born in 1954 now has to work until the age of 67 before getting full benefits.
There are many stereotypes that plaque the older person. They are slower; their brains won't work as well. They are often accused of not keeping up with current technology. Their ideas may be seen as old fashioned. People believe that older people work because they are lonely, or have no real interests at home.
According to the EEOC, after the year 2000, 50% of the workforce was 40 or older. This caused a tremendous rise in age discrimination cases. 2 One such case is Brian Reid versus Google, Inc. Doctor Reid filed an age discrimination suit after being fired at the age of 54 in 2004. Doctor Reid, a former Stanford College professor, incurred such insults as “Old man” and “Old guy” and was told he was “not a cultural fit”.3 Doctor Reid won the right to continue the lawsuit in a court of appeals. He was hired in 2002 at the age of 52 and had one outstanding performance review prior to being fired.
Selma Lagerlof was the first woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in 1909 at the age of 51. She was from Sweden, and was most famous for her short stories in children’s literature. Jean Henri Dunant was the first to receive the Nobel Peace prize in 1901. He was the founder of the Red Cross. He shared this prize with Frederic Passy. Dunant was 73. Frederic Passy, the co-winner of the Nobel Price won it for starting the French Peace Society. He was 79 at the time.
One actor, who won an Oscar at the age of 68, is Morgan Freeman. He is well known for his part in “Driving Miss Daisy”, a film about an older lady who hires an older man as her chauffeur. Morgan Freeman, originally from Tennessee, started his career in acting in his late fifties. Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard of Germany won a Nobel Prize at the age of 53 in1995 for research in genetics. Her research was a stepping stone for the study of human genes. Cher
is another prominent figure in the music and entertainment filed. She won an Emmy in 2003 at the age of 57 for her most recent album. Cher is an American born actress, producer and singer. She continues to perform today.
Robert Frost, a four time Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote poetry up until his death at the age of 89. He was a California native. His poem “The Road Not Taken” is show below.
“THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost 1920
There are many films about the elderly. One film would be “On Golden Pond” with
Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda. It is a film about an aging couple who spend each summer at their summer home and this year their daughter visits. In was made in 1982 and it won three Oscar awards. Henry Fonda was 76 and Katharine Hepburn was 74 when this movie was made. The movie’s theme is about Thayer’s (played by Fonda) struggle with his own mortality.
Clint Eastwood won an award for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004. He was 74 at the time. He also starred in the film, which was about an aging boxer training a young woman to box. Morgan Freeman was also in this cast. The films I seem to be attracted to are usually directed by the more seasoned directors, like Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard.
There are many barriers that exist for the elderly. In the past, the elderly were more respected. They were the top hierarchy of the family. Their opinions were respected. Their family took care of their needs when the time came that they could no longer take care of themselves. Now it seems that times have changed. Children do not seem to be raised to respect their elders. What caused this is unknown. Perhaps some of it comes from the fact that following the depression, parents overindulged their children and did not raise them the way that their parents did.
The study of the elderly relates to sociology in that the elderly are as much as part of society as any ethnic group, and they face the same types of stereotyping and discrimination that all groups face. The elderly have one thing that is different. They can be any color or nationality and still have these barriers.
Do you believe that ageism is a real issue today?
© 2013 Rebecca Shepherd Thomas