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Stereotyping Age Differences in the Workplace: Bias & Discrimination

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  • 0:01 Ageism
  • 1:40 Work Situations
  • 3:18 Harassment
  • 4:44 Employment Policies/Practices
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Everyone has been looked down on because of their age - whether you are young or old, you've likely felt this sting. In this lesson, we explore the three main rules for equal opportunity for older people, including how stereotyping and ageism can lead to issues in the workplace.

Ageism

We live in a world of assumptions and stereotyping. It just is a habit of our brain to categorize things based on a little bit of information. For instance, at what volume do 16-year olds play their music? At what age do kids know what they're going to be when they grow up? Do you really have a basis for making these assumptions, or do you just have a stereotype based on what you expect to find?

When we shift our attention to people over the age of 50, or 'older individuals,' we begin to see more assumptions about them based solely on their age. These individuals are measured by the date of their birth and not their capability, skill, or circumstances. Typically, this is a negative assumption about their abilities and capabilities, which we label as ageism. Ageism is defined as a belief, action, or policy structure that assigns a particular role purely on age.

Ageism and stereotyping typically come in three forms, that being work situations, harassment, and policies/practices, which we will discuss separately in a minute. They are all currently banned by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. But just because something is against the law doesn't mean it never happens. These stereotypes and assumptions are effective ways to hinder the occupational development of all people, as ageism crosses gender and race.

Work Situations

Work situations, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is discrimination of any aspect of employment. This includes:

  • Hiring
  • Firing or layoffs
  • Pay
  • Job assignment
  • Promotions
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits

As you can see, there are a great many things covered by this first type of discrimination. It is easy for people to make logical leaps in justifying why they would push out older people. Let's talk about Allen, a 58-year old highly skilled employee. Let's say he works on the machines for a larger company, fixing anything from car engines to the production line equipment. He is fairly important, but he is getting older.

Here are some ways that Allen's company may show ageism and age-related stereotyping:

  • The company decides to fire Allen due to his age - this is a fairly straightforward example.
  • The company decides to hire another, younger worker and pay them more.
  • The company decides not to train Allen in new techniques because he will retire soon.
  • The company decides to trim or reduce health benefits to force Allen to retire.

All of these examples are technically illegal and could result in a lawsuit if Allen could prove that they were done solely because of his age. That can get very tricky. For example, maybe the person they hired has more training and thus deserves a higher pay. What if the company decided not to train Allen on certain things because they had limited spots available?

Harassment

Harassment is quickly defined as offensive remarks, and when we throw in the age component, it is offensive remarks about a person's age. The catch is, and this is remarked on by the Equal Opportunity Commission, that teasing, offhand comments, and isolated non-serious incidents do NOT count as harassment.

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