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Successful Aging: What you need to know about age discrimination, Part 2

Dear readers,

As noted last week, this year is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). AARP and U.C. Berkeley sponsored a symposium entitled “ADEA at 50” to mark the event. This important act protects almost all of us from age discrimination in the workplace that includes decisions of hiring, firing, retirement, training, promotion and more.

Despite the law, ageism (prejudice again older people) is common in the work environment. The late noted geriatrician Dr. Robert Butler wrote in his Pulitzer Prize book “Why Survive Being Old in America” that “…a deep and profound prejudice against the elderly is found to some degree in all of us.”

Since the workplace is a microcosm of society, it not surprising that nearly two-thirds of workers aged 45 to 74 reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace according to an AARP study.

Take this short true-false quiz to check out your views.

1. The definition of “old” in the workplace is 65 years.

2. The majority of people have no serious health problems that limit their activities, at least through their 60s.

3. The mandatory retirement age in the U.S. is 65.

4. Reaction time begins to slow at age 25.

5. In some cases it is legal for employers to make employment decisions based on age.

6. Older workers have more work-related accidents than younger workers.

7. Older workers do not perform as well as younger workers.

8. Older workers are afraid of new technology.

9. Entrepreneurship belongs to the young.


1. False. The definition of “old” depends on who is defining it. Forty may be considered old by the ADEA; the Social Security Administration may consider 67 as old while the Department of Labor may consider old at 55 since that’s the minimum age for participation in their training program. Yet a basketball player may be considered old at 40 while a presidential candidate of the same age may be considered young.

2. True. The majority of people have no serious health problems that limit their activities at least through their 60s. And we know that older adults compensate well when faced with some limitations.

3. False. There is no mandatory retirement age in the U.S. for most jobs.

4. True. Based on laboratory experiments, reaction time does decline with age. The good news is that practicing reacting quickly increases reaction time.

5. True. In some cases, it is legal to discriminate where age is considered a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) particularly in jobs involving public safety such as airline pilots, bus drivers and fire fighters. Note models also are excluded from the law.

6. False. Older workers have fewer work-related accidents than younger workers. However older workers take longer to recover.

7. False. Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of business finds (almost) every aspect of job performance gets better with age. Additionally we know that age is a poor predictor of performance.

8. False. In general tech employees over age 55 are less stressed using technology in the work place and are better in using multiple devices than their younger peers as reported in

9. False. The Kauffman Foundation found more people 55 to 64 are creating their own businesses than those 20 to 34 years. As a percent of total entrepreneurs, the age group of 55 to 64 has grown the most.

Ageism has its roots in several areas. Our cultural and social values are partially responsible. We are a youth-oriented society as seen in advertising, commercial photography and television. Second, given that families no longer live close to one another, opportunities to have positive experiences with older adults are limited. Skype is useful but cannot take the place of a warm hug from a grandparent or the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. And finally, there is a lack of knowledge about aging. The combination of these forces can easily lead to negative stereotyping of older adults.

Ashton Applewhite, the closing speaker at the symposium, is an influential pro-aging activist who is fighting to dismantle ageism. She writes about the scourge of ageism and states, “It’s time for age pride.” I agree. Applewhite presents a great case in her book “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism.”

So dear readers, let’s all support “age pride” and eradicate ageism if not for our own self-interest than for the human value of equality.

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