Work Life

Ageism vs Age Discrimination

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Ageism and age discrimination are related concepts that involve bias or prejudice against individuals based on their age. While they share similarities, there are subtle differences between the two when referring to the workplace:

Ageism: Ageism is a broader term that encompasses attitudes, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices based on age. It refers to the general negative beliefs or assumptions people hold about individuals of a certain age group. Ageism can affect both younger and older individuals and can manifest in various ways, such as assumptions about competency, productivity, or adaptability based on age.

In the workplace, ageism may involve stereotypes such as older employees being seen as less technologically competent or less able to learn new skills, while younger employees may be perceived as lacking experience or being entitled. Ageist attitudes can lead to exclusion, unequal treatment, or limited opportunities for individuals of a certain age group.

Examples include:

  • Job advertisements stating a preference for “digital natives” or “young and energetic” candidates, implying that older individuals may be less competent or adaptable.
  • Colleagues or supervisors making comments or jokes about an older employee’s inability to understand or use new technologies.
  • Older employees being excluded from team-building activities or professional development opportunities based on assumptions that they wouldn’t be interested or wouldn’t benefit from them.
  • An older employee being passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger colleague with less experience but perceived as having more potential.
  • Assuming that older workers are not interested in taking on challenging assignments or new responsibilities, despite their qualifications and interest.

Age Discrimination: Age discrimination specifically refers to treating an individual unfairly or unfavorably in employment decisions based on their age. It involves differential treatment, policies, or practices that disadvantage or restrict opportunities for individuals due to their age. Age discrimination is typically associated with negative actions, such as hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, training opportunities, or layoffs based solely on age.

Age discrimination is often protected and regulated by laws in many countries. For instance, in the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination against individuals aged 40 or older in employment settings with 20 or more employees.

Examples include:

  • A company laying off older employees while retaining younger ones with similar qualifications and experience, based solely on age.
  • Denying training opportunities or educational benefits to older employees while providing them to younger employees in similar positions.
  • Requiring mandatory retirement ages that force employees to retire when they are still capable and willing to continue working.
  • Failing to hire a qualified older candidate for a position based on assumptions about their ability to work with younger colleagues or adapt to new technologies.
  • Offering lower salaries or benefits to older employees compared to their younger counterparts with similar qualifications and experience.

While ageism refers to general attitudes and beliefs, age discrimination involves specific acts or practices that are considered unfair or illegal due to their impact on individuals based on age.

In summary, ageism refers to general biases and stereotypes based on age, while age discrimination involves unfair treatment or practices specifically related to employment decisions based on age. Ageism can contribute to age discrimination, but age discrimination is a more specific and actionable concept that focuses on discriminatory actions within the workplace.

Chris Kidd is the owner of,,, and

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