Age discrimination in the workplace: theoretical approaches to the issues of ageism

Academic paper about age discrimination in the workplace on the basis of several theoretical approaches

There seems to be no doubt that age discrimination in the workplace is one of the most challenging issues of the modern world. Evidently, many elder people face biased attitude despite their high professional qualities and dedication to their job. It happens only because ageism is still a kind of norma in many companies. The current paper examines the problems of age discrimination in relation to the changing situation of the globalized economics. The essay uses various theoretical approaches to analyze the reasons for the existence of ageism and some probable solutions of the issue.

Definition of ageism

Ageism is discrimination and prejudice against people on the basis of age. It is a serious social problem that particularly marginalizes and stigmatizes older people. Although people of all ages can suffer discrimination of some form, there are more stereotypes about the mental and physical abilities of older people. Some different stereotypes depict them as slow in their movement and thinking, as unable to change or living in the past, as cranky, sickly people, who lack social values. Ageism has been described as promoting the variety of ideals of youth, as part of modern society that actively promotes a serious obsession with appearance and being vital and young. Ageism can also be portrayed as reflecting deeply-held fears. It may signal about a state of denial about the biological fact of ageing. The implication is that a person’s age becomes a reason for pre-determined or pre-set behavior, in spite of that person’s actual individual qualities.

Within the employment context, mature age workers may be stereotyped as unable to learn new skills or too dependent. Such stereotypes become a thin cover for reasons of disability discrimination when the process of getting older is linked with assumptions of a person’s physical decline and potential for health injury. Avoiding mature age workers because of a perceived disability risk can be discriminatory and reveals an attitude of unwillingness by employers to provide workplaces that enable people with different abilities and intentions to work to their full potential. This problem is not as popular in media and society as the problem of gender or race inequality, but it needs to be solved at the highest governmental level.

Conservative point of view regarding the issue of ageism

Conservative view on the problem of ageism at work is quite bipolar. From one side conservatives argue that these negative attitudes at work have come about because of the shift from placing big value on experience to favoring compliance and efficiency over quality. Such negative approach is also known as the work intensification model. This shift buys into stereotypes of people in age as experienced, but inefficient. Instead of observing age as simply part of the ordinary course of a person’s life, stereotypes and negative generalizations are used. Rather than seeing workplaces as made up of people of all ages, characteristics and backgrounds, the overriding message for older workers appears to be that mature age is a one-way ticket to decline. At this point conservatives try to get off the ageism with the changes in market regulation. From the other side, some conservatives have an opinion, that a person in age should retire and have a rest, which is guaranteed by Constitution. It will bring the possibility for other people to get the job, and the society will not suffer from the outer side of anti-ageism.

Liberal view on age discrimination

According to the liberal view, any form of age discrimination is extremely bad. Society should move forward towards the elimination of ageism, and the journey from discrimination to free society is only a matter of knowledge and time. Liberal view on age discrimination can be divided into three broad categories. First, there are arguments that age discrimination simply reflects the higher pay of older workers, and so reducing this higher pay would resolve any employment difficulties. However, very often the older workers receive a small salary, which is a result of liberal market regulation. The second related viewpoint suggests that older workers often return to the labor market to gain employment in insecure and poorly paid occupations as a lifestyle choice. It can be noted, that there are many occasions, when workers just need this work to survive, and the liberal market stimulation at the point of ageism can cause danger for their life. The third viewpoint argues that employers’ tendency to discriminate represents the effect of residual knowledge disparities, and can be redressed through the better availability of information on good practice, or, in other words, a form of statistical discrimination.

Structural-functional analysis of ageism

The structural-functional analysis observes this problem with a disengagement theory, which suggests that withdrawing from social relationships and society is a natural part of growing old. Theory consists of several main points and proves that there is no discrimination in the retirement of old people. First of all, it should be noted, that, because of a fact that a person expects to die one day, and because people experience physical and mental decline as they approach death, it is natural to withdraw from society and individuals. Second, as the elderly withdraw, people receive less reinforcement to conform to social norms. This withdrawal allows a freedom from the pressure to conform. At last, social withdrawal seems to be gendered, meaning it is experienced differently by women and men. Criticisms typically focus on the application of the idea that seniors absolutely naturally withdraw from society as they age, and that it does not allow for a variation in the way people experience aging.

Symbolic-interaction analysis of age discrimination in the workplace

According to the symbolic-interaction analysis, there appears a theory, which insists on a fact that the energy of workers diminishes as we age. As the result people select personal goals optimize the effort they put into activities (Macionis 77). In this way they have a compensation making up for the loss of a wider range of activities and goals. In this theory, the physical decline postulated by previous disengagement theory may result in more dependence. It can not be necessarily negative, as it brings a possibility for aging individuals to save their energy for the most meaningful activities. Professor who values teaching philosophy may participate in a phased retirement, without entirely giving up teaching, but acknowledging his personal physical limitations that allow teaching only limited number of classes per year.

Social-conflict theory’s point of view on ageism

Theorists, who work with the social-conflict theory, view society as inherently unstable. They characterize it as an institution that privileges the powerful wealthy few and at the same time marginalizing everyone else. According to the principle of conflict theory, social groups always compete with other groups for power and resources. Applied to society’s aging problem, the principle means that the elderly struggle with other groups to retain a certain share of resources. This competition may become a serious conflict. In this model, the only way to avoid being discarded is to engage in resource management, for example maintaining a large inheritance or being in social exchange systems via child care. In fact, the theory can depend too much on the assumption that individuals are always calculating. It is often criticized for affording too much attention to material exchange and devaluing nonmaterial assets such as friendship and love.

Current anti-discrimination laws in the field of age biases

Anti-discrimination laws are related to the international human rights. They arebased on international human rights conventions or agreements, which have been developed through the United Nations system. The aim of these conventions is to further the goal of equality for all people, regardless of sex, race, religion and other status, among all countries who agree to be bound by these obligations.

There is no binding international agreement or convention that deals specifically with the rights of older people. They are not expressly mentioned in the two major international human rights agreements: International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It should be noted, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to age, and then only in the narrow, limited context of the right to security in old age. A number of employment-specific and local, regional conventions also contain provisions, which relate to older people. As the example, the International Labor Organization Convention states that training and career guidance must be applied without discrimination as to age.


Problems, observed in an essay are not unsolvable. Societies that experience them can change, adapt and evolve. It can be changed through a greater awareness of human rights. In my opinion, strengthening and reform of policies and laws, further research and awareness education campaigns must be core initiatives at that point. However, individual action is also very important. People have to start outing age discrimination whenever they see and experience it. These are all actions that can assist in creating a serious change.

Through these kinds of actions, an important control and level of choice can be returned to the lives of mature age workers. It is essential to ensuring respect and dignity. We can take real steps to eradicate age discrimination in workplaces and to eradicate the acceptability of ageism in almost all spheres of life. With age equality as the goal, we will also be taking steps to ensure that people rights are respected and protected equally in a fair society that is truly inclusive of us all.

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Macionis, John. 2012. Social Problems. 5th ed., Books a la carte, Pearson Education. Print.