Age discrimination and stereotyping remain 'rooted' in UK workplaces, finds DWP

David Woods , 16 Jan 2012

older worker

Research published today by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that age-related discrimination and stereotyping remain rooted in British society.

The findings, based on new analysis from the ONS opinions survey, found on average, respondents thought that 'youth' ends at 41 and that 'old age' begins at 59. But this varied by as much as 20 years in relation to the age of the respondent. The age at which youth stops and old age starts increased in relation to the age of the respondent.

Respondents were asked to say how acceptable or unacceptable they would find a suitably qualified 30-year-old or 70-year-old boss. While most respondents were accepting of either, three times as many (15% and 5% respectively) thought that having a 70-year-old boss would be 'unacceptable' compared with having a 30-year-old boss.

Just over a third of respondents said they had been shown some age-related prejudice in the last year. This has risen slightly from a quarter in the previous survey. Experiences of age discrimination were more common for younger groups, with under 25s at least twice as likely to have experienced discrimination than other age groups.

Perceptions towards those aged over 70 are more positive than towards those in their 20s. People over 70 are viewed as more friendly, having higher moral standards and as being more competent than people in their 20s.

In terms of general status, people in their 40s were viewed as having the highest status. On average people aged over 70 were given a higher status than those in their 20s.

Nearly half of all respondents viewed people in their 20s and aged over 70 as being two groups which are part of the same community. However a third viewed these groups as being individuals rather than groups.

The majority of respondents had friends in either age group whom they could discuss personal issues with, however people were more likely to have someone under 30 to talk to (77%) than over 70 (69%).


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Forget age, focus on ability

Dr Dianne Bown-Wilson 16 Jan 2012

The most significant message that emerges from this is a reminder that the age at which youth stops and old age starts increases in relation to the age of the individual making the judgement. This becomes particularly pertinent - and potentially damaging - when that individual is recruiting or evaluating either younger or older workers. In these situations those making such judgements therefore must consciously look beyond age and focus solely on personal skills, qualities and experience. Ultimately positive discrimination e.g. the view expressed here that older people are more friendly, is just as damaging as negative discrimination if it is used to define a group with nothing more in common than the number of years they have been alive. We will only ever erode age discrimination in the workplace by circumventing perceived age-related factors and concentrating on ability and aptitude.

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