YOUR TURN: Don’t Dismiss Us Because We’re Younger!

We hear a lot about discrimination in the workplace and other areas these days- racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. One type, however, is conspicuously absent: age discrimination. Although admittedly we have had a few good posts about it (see Ann Bibby’s post on teacher tenure), age discrimination is not on really represented in our discussions.

Why is that? As a young activist, this has annoyed and frustrated me to no end. Why, oh WHY, do we assume that because someone is younger that they do not have the skills to succeed? When I was 8, 9, 10, and older, I consistently resented it when   people talked to me condescendingly, not understanding that this was a girl who at age 8 saved up all her birthday and christmas money until she had $1,000, and then donated half to Heifer International.

The next generation is getting a lot of flack theses days for being lazy, stupid, and for not wanting to go out and get jobs. Although that is partly true, it is due mainly to messages from parents and people like Mr. Rogers that we were special no matter what, and that we should feel entitled. Yet when we hit 18, or 21, or graduated from college, we were suddenly finding ourselves on our own in the world, with parents around for moral support but at the same time with LOTS OF PRESSURE to find jobs, settle down (sometimes), and to have the “healthy, stable life that your father and I worked so hard for.” Sound familiar, anybody?

Yet when we do manage to get into the workplace, we are seen as easily disposable and are fired before everyone else. Even if we do manage to stay in a job, it’s a constant power struggle. In addition, we are so often judged by how we look. Many young teachers, doctors, layers, and others feel constantly threatened because of their perceived “youth” and “inexperience.” What older adults don’t understand about the youth of today is that you cannot push them out into a world that you have ill prepared them for, make it hard for them to succeed in it, and then get angry with them when they don’t.

There is no “magic age” at which kids and young adults stop needing the advice and assistance of those wiser than they (note that I did NOT say “older and wiser). Some people need more help for a longer time, and (gasp!) some kids can make it on their own before they’re that old. It’s true, folks. There is no magic age, and until we believe that, the old and younger generations will be at loggerheads with each other.

by Ann Garth, Care2 Member and Your Turn blogger


leo l.
leo L5 years ago

I believe prejudice against someone's age plays heavily on both sides of the spectrum. Laziness, entitlement and complacency are negative attributes an individual has regardless of their age.

But if you want my own experience in the mix, I managed a group of 80-100 individuals before we shifted the bulk of our operations off shore. When we had our employees here, most of them were in the above 45-65 age range with a tenure of 10-15 years. Guess what they used to tell me all the time? They didn't feel comfortable taking constructive criticism from someone younger than them. They also felt that their experience has given them entitlement and made it well known throughout the department. Guess what, as I mentioned before the company decided it was high time for these so called "veteran employees" who were getting paid more and worked less to be kicked out on the curb and move our operation elsewhere. We now have only 20% of our workforce domestically.

Experience is insignificant if your knowledge is obsolete. When was the last time you saw the ability to use an abacus in someone's resume? Zilch! My suggestion would be to go in the workforce regardless of your age with a level head, learn the trade. Avoid the politics and do your job right. Management always knows who bums around and who pretends to work.

colleen p.
colleen p5 years ago

I wonder if anyone here would attack that little girl for donating to "the wrong" charity. if I ever make movies I will create the fabrication of a similar situation and have one of those over zealous animal rights people berate the hypothetical child for hurting animals by proxy.

Hailey Wohlwend
Hailey Wohlwend6 years ago

also : sarah kays not just another math problem. really inspiring poem

Hailey Wohlwend
Hailey Wohlwend6 years ago

thank you! it is impossible to be 12 years old and an activist!!! everyone at my school hates me because i care!!!!! and all the adults i know just think that its cute when i want to help or have opinions on major issues! people don't think my voice matters, but the truth is that someday my generation will inherit this country - and i'd like to get a say in what that countries going to look like when we get to that point. thank you for drawing attention to this.

Morgan G.
Morgan Getham6 years ago

Age discrimination in all facets of life is an evil thing, and something that needs to be addressed and overcome by our society.

One of the most insidious places where it shows up in in the workplace. And one of the REASONS that it is so prevalent in the workplace is that our "age discrimination" laws are practically rigged to BEG for it to happen.

All other forms of discrimination can be proven by what is known as "disparate impact." That is, if a company has a personnel policy that results in their hiring or promoting fewer than the expected number of African Americans or women, that by itself is sufficient to charge the employer with discrimination. The same is NOT true with age. There are no such protections given to the young, or the old, in the workplace. They have to go further and, essentially, prove an INTENT to discriminate on the basis purely of age, which is almost always an impossible burden of proof.

Until this deliberate bit of age discrimination in labor law is corrected, the workplace will continue to be a hostile place for those at both ends of the age spectrum. Maybe it's time that people from both groups got together and worked toward a common goal of ending this discrimination.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Generalizations are that- generalizations- not true in all cases, but enough that you can use them. Too much self esteem, too little smarts, is my generalization here. Just because you can Tweet doesn't mean you can use a computer. I see 20 somethings with college degrees that cannot put files in alpha/chronological order.

Christine T.
Ciara T6 years ago

Thank you for this! It is the exact sort of thing my friends and I are experiencing. With graduation just having finished, I have seen so many people think that careers are going to magically and instantly appear and flourish, as if we automatically know what we want. Some do and some do not. Or that we will automatically find something. I also find so many who believe that there is only one way to do it (i.e. graduate, get a job, get married, settle down, etc.) and it is really annoying. And half the time it isn't even about what you can do, but who you know. Sad.

Like others commented, age discrimination does go both way, which is unfortunate in both cases. And that yes, it is a broken system, both outside and within the education system.

Blake W.
Blake W6 years ago

Wow, looks like most of the readers on this site are exactly the people that the author was talking about! It is really convenient to have such empirical proof of their thesis right on hand!
Let's not forget the tendency of older individuals to say to us 'You've got it "made in the shade,"' as if all human existence was some awful struggle until we came along and it was all handed to us on a silver platter. Challenges today may be different but they are still challenges.

That being said, I realize that age discrimination cuts both ways, and that in some cases older individuals also face discrimination.

Diane H F6 years ago

I meant to add that your statement that young people get "flack these days for being lazy, stupid, and for not wanting to go out and get jobs" is surprising. I also don't know a soul who doesn't recognize that today's youth work far harder, and far more is demanded of them, than ever before, and that they are anything but "stupid."

Diane H F6 years ago

I'm in my 50s, and I don't personally know a soul who looks down on today's youth. We see an extraordinary generation, in fact.

Wages is a separate issue. On one hand, wages have traditionally increased with experience, so older workers were paid more.

Today's situation doesn't reflect attitudes, but rather, shows the power of corporations today to exploit American workers (of all ages). Over the past 40 years, government has enacted a long list of entire segments of society that can be paid minimum (or less) wages, while wiping out workers' rights and protections.. Corporations don't give a rip about age, gender, race, etc -- they care only about reducing costs (wages and benefits) to maximize profit.