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Someone’s age makes them more experienced, not less capable.

Nearly 70% of workers above the age of 45 have reported feeling discriminated against because of their age at some point in the workplace. Considering that the median national working age was just below 45 in 2012, this phenomenon affects many people in their working environments. Not only does ageism affect the mental health of those directly afflicted, but it also taints perceptions of young people and denies the workplace of extremely knowledgeable sources.

Although age discrimination can be experienced by anyone, elderly people are most commonly on the receiving end — and it typically happens in working environments. Ageism is believing that elderly people’s mental health is affected negatively by the aging process and therefore deeming younger people to be more secure. The main danger of ageism is the mental and physical impact it has on older generations. More than 25 million Americans ages 65 and older are experiencing economic instability and an unemployment rate some sources estimate to be as high as 12%. 

Ageism comes with feelings of not having a “valued life,” which leads to a heightened risk of isolation and mental health conditions. With complaints of age discrimination on the rise yearly, it’s not far-fetched to also believe that more elders feel these negative thoughts about ageism than ever before. It’s important that younger Americans care about this, not only because their elders are the people who raised them and shaped the world for them, but also because they too will one day be elders, and so this unsavory occurrence is their future as well.

 

In one decision-making simulation, the older group of participants performed better than the younger — they were more rational and deliberative-thinkers. This example helps to prove, while people’s brains may slow as they age, their ability to retain information learned from experience is unfaltering. Knowledge comes from experience, and the most experienced people in the workplace are typically older workers. Because older people offer an insight that younger workers may not possess yet, they can even prove to be the perfect mentors for their coworkers. Not hiring older workers can weaken businesses by opting out of the priceless experience they bring to the table.  

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits companies from discriminating against workers 40 and above because of their age. Yet, with increasing complaints of age discrimination and a high level of unemployment for older workers, it’s clear that age discrimination still lives on through systematic loopholes. Companies may purposefully issue inaccurate performance evaluations for older workers or push these workers to quit by not offering accommodations in the workplace. If workers are still experiencing workplace discrimination after legal acts against it have been passed, it begs the question of what other kinds of Americans are experiencing discrimination in their working environments.

It’s important that more businesses and younger people recognize the value that older workers bring to the table and stop subscribing to the belief that their aging has weakened their mental capacity instead of strengthening it. Ageism ultimately hurts the victim and the aggressor. 

Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology double major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.