Age discrimination is an all-too-common problem that affects most people at some point in their lives, no matter, what country they live in, what social status they have, what other advantages or disadvantages they might have – and the fact that it’s illegal does not help much, if at all. This problem, though brought to more and more light recently, remains as obscure as ever.
As Sheldon Steinhauser of the Metropolitan State Cottage of Denver showed, by putting first in his top ten list to battle age discrimination in the workplace the thesis, “Recognize age bias and discrimination as the pervasive, escalating issue it is”. In fact, any age group can meet with discrimination at any time; though each in different spheres – where an adult might be in his element, a youth might find himself illegally turned away.
On the other hand, where a youth or an adult is welcomed, an elderly person might be simply not accepted. And let us not forget children: a group which is very easily discriminated against, yet which cannot speak up for itself just yet, which leaves most cases of such discrimination unreported.
In this paper, I will elaborate on each age group, giving accounts of how each one is discriminated against, and how it is recommended to deal with such problems, beginning with children, and ending with the elderly. Mostly I will focus on the issues dealing with work: this is the sphere discrimination is most rampant in.
When dealing with discrimination, however, one must take into account the instances of positive discrimination – when a group gets preferred for some task above all other groups for no reason other than age – and I underline this, because of one of the main problems with any sort of discrimination, distinguishing between true cases of discrimination and when someone uses the law’s loopholes to cover up one’s incompetence, hopefully receiving monetary compensation for it in the process, as well.
These cases are all too common, and David H. Greenberg on his website shows the long and difficult process of distinguishing and proving real discrimination –“The most recent court cases have said that the employee must come up with some actual proof that there was discrimination in the workplace. Just proving that the employer's reason isn't the real reason isn't enough.”
However, positive discrimination does exist and is also a problem, so it must be taken into account as seriously as negative discrimination.
Also one must remember, that some cases of differentiation between the ages fall not into the sphere of discrimination, but into the sphere of necessity. For instance, not giving children medicine in doses appropriate to adults is not discrimination – to do otherwise would be poisoning the child. Yet in many other cases political correctness here is taken to the extreme after which it becomes applied idiocy.
A true-to-life example was when a six-year old American boy was sued for sexual harassment – for giving a girl in school a kiss on the cheek! The worst thing about this case was that the prosecution won. Talk about loopholes in the judiciary system!
For comparison, when a similar, though worse, case happened in Russia – a young boy of six and a girl of five tried to emulate their older peers, which ended in full-blown sexual contact – the incident inspired nothing but surprise.
The parents of both children were reasonable enough to understand that the children didn’t exactly understand what they were doing – thus following the spirit of the law, instead of its dead form and letter.
Thus we come to discrimination against children, defined as ages 1-12. This age group is most commonly discriminated against, strange as it may seem, during shopping. Quite a few stores tend to look at children as potential shoplifters. As one Canadian shop worker put it, “Children are too easily fascinated by things.
A child can pick a toy he likes and simply leave, because he doesn’t know better. They must be watched carefully at all times.” This, though in some cases true, is in no way as widely spread, and the fear of uncommon child robbers sometimes takes much more sinister forms, such as children being informally banned from stores, or required to be watched by their parents for no real reason.
The result can be described quite well by the old saying, “if you have the blame, you might as well have the game”. A child regularly blamed for shoplifting will sooner or later start to steal – just because he takes the heat for it regardless of his real actions. In this case, the parents may defend their child’s rights through court.
Other cases of discrimination against children often happen at the child’s school, the teachers or other members of the staff treating children disrespectfully, abusing their position of power for personal reasons. This leads to a multitude of possible cases, from dropping out of school to the infamous American “school shootings”: any person can only take so much pressure.
School discrimination can be dealt with, once more, by alerting the parents who then deal with the school authorities, privately, or, in extreme cases, through court. However, this does not necessarily solve the problem: in the end, it is usually worked out on a personal level.
The next age group is youth – 13-21. This is perhaps the most discriminated against group of all. They have all of the disadvantages that children have – they are as of yet disallowed to taste the pleasures of adult life, such as freedom of movement, drinking, et cetera, but they have already gained the responsibilities of adults.
Add to that social mistrust on the whole - young people have been accused of all sorts of despicable behavior on the ground of their age, from drugs to complete and utter amorality – and one can acquire a pretty depressing picture. Teenagers are often distrusted at work: they are considered to be worse specialists than their older colleagues, or prone to stealing.
A teenager will likely get paid less than an adult doing the same kind of work, and, furthermore, be made to work more for less money, taking advantage of the teenager’s gullibility. Also, even more importantly, even if a teenager is skilled enough to work a job that requires an official education of some kind, they will likely simply not be taken on. Now let us step aside for a moment, and contemplate why teenagers try to find a job.
A youth either needs money or is bored. In the first case, he will try to find some way to acquire the money – and likely, the way will not be legal. The majority of such unfortunates get caught, their lives later on marked by crime. If a teenager goes to find work out of boredom and does not find any, he will acquire a combination of time and angst on his hands, usually leading to dangerous hobbies of some kind.
A teenager has the right to work, and denying him this or treating him unfairly is not only useless – for children have a tendency to grow - but, as we have seen, dangerous. The only realistic way to combat this discrimination is quite simple: one must not give the impression of a teenager.
Act like an adult, and you will be perceived as one, and, consequentially, be treated as one. One could try to take some sort of official action against the offender, yet these cases are rather hard to prove and usually depend more on the skill of the lawyers than on truth.