Sunday, December 11, 2005

age bias in employment, ageist language

age bias in employment - Age bias has been and remains a problem in the United States, as indicated by a Louis Harris and Associates public opinion poll that showed that eight out of 10 Americans think that employers discriminate against the elderly. Partly due to the passage some years ago of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and to the growing public awareness of rights of older people under this law, the number of age discrimination complaints has increased from about 11,000 per year in 1980 to approximately 27,000 per year at the present time. The provisions of this act are administered nationally by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which has had to take to court some 700 cases per year that could not be settled by local hearings.
By far the most common age-discrimination complaint concerns improper discharge from a job for reasons of age rather than of poor performance. In a recent year over 100,000 such cases were filed across the nation, and age accounted for about 15 percent of all such cases, ranking only behind race and sex as the reason for such complaints. Other major causes for age-discrimination complaints included unreasonable terms and conditions of employment, discrimination in hiring, improper layoffs, unfair treatment in promotions, and wage discrimination.
Some of the reasons for employment discrimination include favoring people with youthful appearances when appearance is not a reasonable criterion for job performance; higher rates for insurance benefit packages; and inadequate opportunity for training older employees for modern technology. Observers also note that older people may be denied loans or access to apartments for reasons of age.
Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 20th Annual Report. Washington, D.C.: The Commission, 1988.
House of Representatives Hearing, "Age Discrimination in Employment," January 28, 1988. Committee Publication No. 100-656. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.


ageist language - Ageist language is the term for words and phrases commonly used to refer disparagingly to older people. While there are some terms that are intended to honor the old (e.g., senior citizen, golden ager, old-timer, mature citizen), others are derogatory. They include some that apply to older women-bag, hag, harridan, crone, biddy, and even witch. For men the terms are fewer and perhaps not quite as unpleasant- codger, coot, geezer, mossback, etc. Other terms attribute disagreeable habits and personality traits to older individuals: crank, fogy, fossil, fuddy-duddy, grump, miser, reprobate, DOM (dirty old man), and cantankerous. Yet others single out the physical weaknesses of the older generation-- doddering, tottering, rickety, decrepit, frail, shriveled, long-in-the-tooth, moribund. Older people are sometimes characterized as mentally incompetent, as when a well-intended younger person will comment that an older person is "still sharp as a tack," as if to suggest that the old in general are mentally dull. Terms that disparage the mental state of the old include rambling, dotty, driveling, gaga, second childhood.
Even the names of nursing homes and retirement communities may inadvertently contribute to the ageist lexicon by calling facilities by such soppy titles as Tender Care, Crystal Pines, Leisure World, Forest Villa, Happy Time Rest Home, instead of employing more straightforward language.
Two publications designed to prevent ageist portrayal of older people now exist: Truth About Aging: Guideline for Accurate Communication and Media Guidelines for Sexuality and Aging. Continual vigilance will be necessary if ageism is to be reduced significantly, if not eradicated from our language and literature. One positive step has already begun in this regard. The newly established national intergeneration organization, Understanding Aging, Incorporated, has recently established an award for authors who portray the elderly in a realistic and nonstereotype fashion.
Nuessel, F. "Old Age Needs a New Name," in Aging, Goldstein, E. C., ed. Vol. 2, Art. 70. Boca Raton, Fl.: Social Issues Resource Series, Inc., 1981.
Spencer, M. E. "Truth About Aging: Guidelines for Accurate Communications." Washington, DC: AARP, 1984.
Wisnieski, C. J. "Media Guideline for Sexuality and Aging," in Television and the Aging Audience. San Diego: University of Southern California Press, 1980.


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