Ageism is one of the Only Forms of Acceptable Discrimination
I recently read the article, “Older workers are being nudged out the door: Why is it still OK to be ageist on the job?” by Richard Eisenberg. This article was an interview of the authors of a Stanford Business School study titled, Equality for (Almost) All: Egalitarian Advocacy Predicts Lower Endorsement of Sexism and Racism, But Not Ageism.
I bought the full report from the American Psychological Association and found it a bit geeky but, then again, it is a research study!
I found some very interesting findings that I want to summarize in this post.
How is Ageism Different from Sexism, Racism, and other Equivalents?
The author states that racism and sexism are telling people to “stay in your place”. Do not advance past the boundaries that society has set for these people.
On the other hand, ageism is telling the older works to “move out of the way”. In an egalitarian society, as we age, we should eventually voluntarily step aside and let the next generation take our place.
One of the things that the baby boomer generation is best known for is that the world conformed and adapted to our wants and needs for decades. The youngest baby boomer is 57 years of age as of October of 2021. In previous, times we would have been expected to have moved aside by now and retired. We are not playing the game of retirement and getting out of the way like previous generations. The younger generations sure do not like it.
Why are We not Moving Out of the Way?
I am 65 years old and have no intentions of retiring. At the same time, I have no intentions of working for an employer ever again. Following the self-employment model allows me to do this. Years of saving and being a bit lucky in my timing allowed me the choice to retire or keep working. A very large portion of our generation is not in this situation, they have to keep working.
The report discusses the concept of “opportunity blocking”. The author defines this as the belief that older individuals actively obstruct more deserving groups from receiving necessary resources and support to get ahead”.
A lot depends on how younger people view why we are not retiring. Do they understand that many cannot retire or do they have the viewpoint that we are choosing not to retire?
A lot depends on how younger people view their older colleagues.
A few years ago I gave a shortened version of the Multigenerational Workplace workshop to the top law firms in Austin. The leader of the hosting law firm was in his late 60s with no intention of retiring anytime soon. When I went to close the session I asked for some final thoughts. One of the lawyers who was born in the mid-1960s said he just wished the older partners would just retire to get the “heck” out of the way. This was a classic case of opportunity blocking perception and a clear form of ageism.
This was a classic case of why ageism is one of the only forms of acceptable discrimination.
Why are We Blocking Opportunity for the Next Generation?
The reality is we are living longer and healthier lives. At the same time, we are ill-prepared financially to retire. Depending on what study you look at somewhere between 70-80% of baby boomers are not prepared to retire.
Some of us do not want to retire. I want to keep working but I have decided to pursue an encore career.
This is nothing new. We have heard about university professors staying on in their positions well into their 80s. Look at the current and previous US presidents, neither are planning to step aside and let the next generation take the lead.
Many of you who are reading this post are not blocking opportunities because you are on the opposite end of the scale your opportunity is being blocked for you by ageism.
The Younger You Are the More Likely to Believe in Succession
The study showed the beliefs in the concept of succession grow the younger you are. The younger you are the more you are likely to think older workers should step aside.
When I interviewed Aston Applewhite in the podcast episode, This Chair Rocks! with Author Ashton Applewhite [Podcast], we discussed how we tend to age segregate throughout our lives.
We start out going to nursery school and then progress through the education system with people the same age as ourselves. The reality is we spend much of our first 25 years segregated by age. It is only once we get out of school, do we experience peers who are not the same age as ourselves.
Why Ageism is one of the Only Forms of Acceptable Discrimination? Logically, It Makes Sense!
I found the results of this study to be quite elucidating. It is easy to understand why ageism could be viewed as acceptable. I do not like it though!
The challenge is the baby boomer generation is BIG. As a cohort, we did not save enough for retirement but then again this is not entirely our fault. The concept of retirement is still a relatively new thing and how we save for retirement changed in the 1980s with the demise of pensions.
Now we throw in the COVID-19 pandemic where we were part of the population most vulnerable.
Logically, this all makes sense but I see that there is no quick fix to the problem. YUCK!