Magoosh GRE

Case Study – Global Social Policies: Older People and Employment

| March 7, 2015

The case study examines the domain of workless, looking at the prejudices faced by older people looking for work or within work, in order to address issues of social policy. The context of the issue is first examined, looking at the overall political, economic, social and technical background. Next, the multiple opinions of the various stakeholders are discussed. Existing policy is next examined. Finally, a number of suggestions are made for extending policy, and the best ways of doing this are assessed. The primary focus is on the UK but it is compared throughout with Europe.

1. Introduction
The following looks at the domain of employment / worklessness / poverty in terms of global social policies. In particular, it examines the notion of employment for older people, and the prejudices they face joining or being in the work place. Should people be made to retire when they reach a certain age, or should they be able to continue working if they wish? The topic has attracted different opinions, and there are a number of debates within the topic, for example the extent to which allowing or encouraging older people to work combats stereotypes about old age, or keeps younger people out of the work place.

Contrasting social policies surrounding this area exist worldwide. The following will primarily focus upon the UK, with comparison with elsewhere in Europe where applicable. In particular, social policies in the area of discrimination are the focus. To what extent do existing policies protect workers against age discrimination and the widespread prejudice against the elderly in the workplace?
2. Context of Issue
This section looks at the background to the issue in terms of the political, economic, social, technical, institutional, legal, environmental and ethical contexts in which it exists.

Socially, the average age of people in the Western world is increasing. This is particularly true for the UK and Europe. 2012 statistics (Office for National Statistics 2012a) suggest that “the UK population is ageing and is projected to continue ageing over the next few decades”. The fastest increases are in people aged 85 and over. Between 1985 and 2010 there was an increase in the proportion of older people across Europe (17% by 2010). Many other countries, for example Germany (21% of the population aged over 65) outstripped the UK in this respect. It is projected that nearly a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or more by 2035, and also that the most other European countries will have an even greater percentage of older people than this (Office for National Statistics 2012a). Although the latter is a projection, and might not be borne out, the figures certainly suggest that more people than ever before are living longer.

Economically, there are arguments both for and against people working into old age. It has been argued that excluding older people from the workplace has a negative impact on the economy, for example leading in losses of over £20 billion within the UK (Gaster 2002). Part of the drive towards opening up the workplace to older people, is, however, the increasingly unaffordable public pension bill. When introduced in 1908 in the UK, average life expectancy at birth was in the late 40’s (Thane 2000): with improved healthcare people can expect to live into their late 70’s and 80’s. Elsewhere in Europe, the impact of aging will add considerably to the cost of providing pensions, for example the cost in Spain is likely to add 8.3% of GDP by 2050, and that a greater proportion of the population needs to be a part of the work force. Over Europe, a report by the Economic Policy Committee suggests, “reforms should primarily aim at delaying retirement” (Economic Policy Committee 2000, p. 8).

In terms of technological changes, there has been a widespread move away from manufacturing, particularly in the UK (House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee 2009), which means that the type of jobs available are not as physically demanding, and therefore that they are open to a wider range of ages. However, the speed of technological change, particularly in computer technology, might mean older people are less confident in the modern work place (CITE). There is a growing recognition of the need to redesign the physical work environment with the needs of older people in mind ( 2008 [online]).

Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that increasing numbers of people aged 65 and older continue to work (Office for National Statistics 2011). Even between 2004 and 2010, the average age at which people leave the workplace rose from 63.8 to 64.6 (men) and 61.2 to 62. 3 years (women) (Office for National Statistics 2012b). However, older people face a number of problems in entering and remaining in the work place, particularly prejudice towards them on the basis of their age. Ethically, there is a need to look at the extent to which older people have been unfairly marginalized in the workplace, and the unquestioned attitudes which are held. Age bias in the workplace leads to a number of negative outcomes, for example older workers are perceived to perform more poorly than younger ones (Rupp et al 2006). It has been suggested that “age prejudice is one of the most socially condoned, institutionalized forms of prejudice in the world” (Nelson 2004, p. ix). Ageism exists across Europe, a 2011 study by Age UK suggested, with ageism reported by 35% of respondents, more than gender discrimination and racial discrimination, perhaps reflecting a lack of legislation against age discriminations across Europe. Employment is one of the few areas within Europe where the EU have made legal address to the problems of ageism, with a draft Directive published in 2008 which banned age discrimination in the workplace. This has not, however, been adopted yet (Age UK 2011). Across Europe, unemployment is widespread amongst older people, with only 46% of 55-64 year olds in work, 11% of 65-69 year olds, and 5% of 70-74 year old. It is harder for older people across Europe to find work, and they are more likely to encounter prejudice within work (Age UK 2011).
3. Stakeholder Perspectives
This section looks at the perspectives of the various stakeholders involved in this issue. These include employees in the workplace of all ages, older people, older employees, policy makers, professional groups and the general public. From the point of view of policy makers, there is an economic argument for raising the retirement age and letting people remain in the workplace longer. This mirrored an attitude change amongst employers also: many were already allowing workers to stay longer in their job if requested (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2011). Delaying retirement makes economic sense for people approaching retirement age, particularly if they have insufficient pension funds, or during a period of recession (Wolff 2011).

In terms of lobbying and interest groups, the UK charity Age UK has been active in campaigning against discrimination in employment, particularly in regards to the Equality Act 2010 “the first comprehensive anti-age discrimination in the UK” ( [online] 2012) and the abolition of the default retirement age.

The concern of this case study is the impact of discrimination in the workplace. Hence, one particularly problematic issue is the extent to which ageism is embedded in society. Indeed, Age UK are making this the focus of a new campaign aimed at combating prejudicial attitudes towards the elderly in society ( [online] 2012]. Prejudice against the elderly takes a huge variety of forms. It might include attitudes which downplay the contribution older people can make, that ridicule them simply for being old and which marginalize their importance influence the perceptions of the general public about older people in the workplace. A search using google for ‘older people should not’ brings up a dispiriting list of blog posts with a deeply embedded casual ageism. Given that this ageism colours the perspective of the general public, to what extent is it necessary to incorporate the prejudiced views expressed as one stakeholder perspective on older people? Given the widespread, almost unquestioned acceptability of derogatory views of older people in society, it is perhaps unsurprising that old people also face prejudice in the workplace from other employees. One perspective found widely amongst younger workers, for example, is that older people ‘steal’ their jobs if they continue working. For example, a blog post on an internet site dedicated to work suggests that older people should retire, to work longer is selfish, and means taking away a job from someone younger (NYC Memories 2012 [online]). A 2010 article talks disparagingly of ‘granny’, suggesting “Are you a teenager looking for a job? You might have to compete with Grandma” ( [online] 2010). Within the workplace, older people face other prejudicial attitudes. There are a number of ways ageism can be expressed, particularly through ageist prejudices and stereotypes, including attitudes about when people should retire, typecasting them as primarily a ‘type’ (the older person) with a range of characteristics including being weak, feebleminded, irritable, stupid, ugly and useless. These negative attitudes are unlikely to be overtly stated but more likely to come out through hostile jokes, patronising attitudes, baby talk and similar means of communication (Nelson 2004).
Another problem is that another group of stakeholders, the elderly, have ambiguous attitudes towards working, which are shared by younger people contemplating ageing. Many want to work to retain their skills, gain economic benefit and feel a useful part of society. Others feel that removing compulsory retirement at 65 and opening up the work place to older people is a disguised attempt to continue to squeeze as much from the elderly as possible before discarding them as economically useless.
The multiple stakeholder perspectives, contradictory at times, are common across the UK and the rest of Europe. Particularly, age discrimination is seen as serious by around half of all Europeans, with Danes and Turks least concerned and the UK second to France with 68% being concerned. An Age UK study (2011) found it the most widespread form of discrimination across Europe, and that there was a Europe-wide reporting of subtle prejudice rather than overt discrimination. This included making older people feel ignored and not taking their views seriously. For example, older people were seen as less friendly and competent. Interestingly, this varied across Europe with people in Hungary rating people over 70 for competence as 3.02 out of 4, and those in Poland 1.87 out of 4. Older people were also more likely to attracte pity and sympathy. These implicit stereotypes mean older people face considerable prejudice (Age UK 2011).

4. Policy and Evidence
There are, then, a wide range of stakeholder perspectives on the employment of the elderly, many of them are contradictory. While economic constraints and ethical issues around freedom of choice seem to suggest the benefits of working beyond 65, some old people might not want to be encouraged to remain in the workplace, and the general public still harbour a range of negative attitudes towards the elderly and ageing. Regardless of these mixed views, within the UK at least, there exists legislation to protect against ageism in the workplace.

This has only been instantiated relatively recently. The Employment Equality (Age) regulations came into force in 2006, aiming to ensure that employment decisions are based on skill to do the job, not age. The Equalities Act 2010 streamlined a number of existing regulations and extended their remit. The act is broad, protecting against discrimination not only in employment but also for education and training. It also discusses discrimination for reasons of gender, disability and other areas. It covers all aspects of employment from recruitment through training to redundancy and dismissal. Redundancy, for example, should not be targeted at older workers alone. Compulsory retirement at 65 is being abolished, and training cannot be directed only at younger employees ( [online] 2012).

Certainly, this Act provides a useful safeguard against age discrimination, however, as it currently stands it is less effective against implicit ageism than against overt forms of discrimination. This raises a question of whether it is even possible to combat implicit forms of ageism, and general cultural views, for example the reaction against ageing through attempts to appear much younger than ones age through cosmetic procedures, or subtle behavioural changes between generations (Weiner 2010). However, although ageing seems to be very deeply rooted in people’s unconscious, this is not to suggest it cannot be challenged and changed. There is scientific evidence that people can over-ride the content of prejudices and overcome stereotyped, providing they are motivated to change their attitudes (Monteith, Zuwerink and Devine 1994). It has also been shown (Rudman et al 2001) that implicit prejudices and stereotypes can be modified through attempts to promote diversity through education. Thus, by extension, it should be possible to tackle negative attitudes towards older people in the workplace through education and awareness filtering down from national level. This still needs to be addressed by the UK government, although the Age UK campaign mentioned above should do something to raise awareness of the problem at national level.

Elsewhere in Europe, The UK have lagged behind other countries in terms of discrimination laws concerned with age and employment. Denmark, for example, introduced a law similar to the UK one in 2004, with both inspired by wider EU regulations in the field of equality and employment. However in Denmark there is no right to work beyond 65. Ireland closely mirrors the UK situation, but laws were introduced as early as 1998 (Knight 2006). EU law (2000) states that both direct and indirect discrimination in employment are unlawful, although age discrimination is permitted if it can be justified objectively and reasonably. There has been some debate about the extent to which this justifies different treatment for workers on the basis of their age. A test case in 2009 was considered, and the National Council on Ageing from the UK challenged the provision about permitted discrimination. They were unsuccessful in this challenge, which might open up possibilities of discrimination with employers claiming it is justified (McKay 2009). While EU directives seem overall to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age in the workplace, test cases as the above seem worrying. In addition, as the Age UK study (2011) suggests, discrimination in the workplace is still widely spread, around Europe as well as the UK.

5. Recommendations
The UK already legislate against discrimination in the work place, and this mirrors legislation throughout Europe, perhaps because many countries are bound by wider EU legislation. However, there are a number of areas which could be addressed by future national policy, particularly in the area of implicit prejudice.
A policy advocacy coalition might be created through a SWOT analysis. Briefly, such an analysis for the area of attacking prejudices against older people in employment is as follows:

• Strengths: The UK, like elsewhere in Europe, already has legislation in place to prohibit discrimination based on age in the workplace. Unlike some other European countries, it does not prohibit people working past 65. The UK also has a strong history of equal rights legislation.
• Weaknesses: Current legislation does not rule out implicit discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice. Nor are these areas addressed in current policy.
• Opportunities: Bodies such as Age UK can offer partnership in developing future policy aimed at tackling implicit discrimination, through their unique insight into the viewpoints of older people.
• Threats: Implicit prejudice is difficult to isolate and hence difficult to tackle, though not impossible.

There are a number of possible interventions which could be considered. Legislation against implicit prejudice in the workplace might be difficult to instantiate. An employer might, as a result of such prejudice, chose a younger employee over an older one, but this would be difficult to prove, as he/she might argue that the employee was the better person for the job. Rather, an education approach aimed at challenging prejudice and making it explicit might work better, including advertising campaigns aimed at overturning derogatory opinions about older workers. Economic incentives might be considered, for example ‘carrots’ to encourage employees to take on older workers, but this might lead to resentment amongst younger workers, particularly at a time of high unemployment. There is also a need to ensure that any moves are situated within a participatory framework, for example consulting with lobbying bodies and interest groups to make sure policy makers fully understand how older workers actually want to be treated.

6. References

Age UK (2011) ‘Grey Matters – A Survey of Ageism across Europe: EU briefing and policy recommendations’, Age UK, London

Age UK (2012) ‘Age Discrimination: Just Equal Treatment’, [online] (cited 1st May 2012) available from (2012) ‘Successful old people should stop beign selfish and retire’ [online] (cited 3rd May 2012) available from

Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) ‘Phasing out the Default Retirement Age (DRA)‘, HMSO, London (2012) ‘Age Discrimination’ [online] (cited 4th May 2012) available from

Economic Policy Committee (2000) ‘Progress report to the Ecofin Council on the
Impact of ageing populations on public pension systems’, EU Economic Policy Committee, Brussels. (2008) ‘Welcoming Workplace: rethinking office design to enable growing numbers of older people to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy’, [online] (cited 2nd May 2012) available from

Gaster, L (2002) Past it at 40?: A Grassroots View of Ageism and Discrimination in Employment : a Report, The Policy Press, 2002

House of Commons: Business and Enterprise Committee (2009) ‘The automotive industry in the UK: ninth report of session 2008-09, report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence’, HMRC, London

Knight, J (2006) ‘How age laws work across the globe’, [online] (cited 3rd May 2012) available from

McKay, S (2009) ‘Temporary agency work directive approved’, Working Lives Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland.

Monteith, M J, Zuwerink, J R and Devine, P G (2011) A Snapshot of Ageism
in the UK and across Europe Age UK 2011, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, US

Nelson, T D (2004) Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice Against Older Persons, MIT Press, USA

Office for National Statistics (2011) ‘Older workers in the labour market’, HMSO, London

Office for National Statistics (2012a) ‘Population Ageing in the United Kingdom
its constituent countries and the European Union Coverage’, HMRC, London

Office for National Statistics (2012b) ‘News release: Average age of retirement rises as people work longer’, HMRC, London

Rudman, L A, Ashmore, R D and Gary, M L (2001) ‘”Unlearning” Automatic Biases: The Malleability of Implicit Prejudice and Stereotypes’, Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 81:5, 856-868.

Rupp, D E and Vodanovich, S J (2006) ‘Age Bias in the Workplace: The Impact of Ageism and Causal Attributions’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36:6, 1337-1364.

Sodahead (2012) ‘Are Old People Stealing Teens’ Jobs?’ [online] (cited 2nd May 2012) available from

Thane, P (2000) Old age in English history: past experiences, present issues, Oxford University Press, Oxon.

Wolff, E N (2011) The Transformation of the American Pension System: Was It Beneficial for Workers?, W.E. Upjohn Institute, USA

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