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ESL Debate – Age Discrimination

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 @ 08:08 AM
posted by Jo

Should age discrimination be made illegal in the workplace?


Age discrimination occurs when a decision is made on the basis of a person’s age. In the workplace these are most often decisions about recruitment, promotion and dismissal. Although such discrimination could be seen in the reluctance to hire workers who were perceived to be too young and immature for the job, in practice it refers to a bias against older workers. In societies that celebrates youthfulness above almost all else, it can be very difficult for even highly qualified professionals to find new positions after the age of 50. For most older workers there appears little they can do to resist being swept aside in favour of younger replacements. European Union states have recently had to introduce an anti-age discrimination law, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees and job seekers because of their age. But around the world the issue remains a controversial one, both in general and in particular over the practice of setting mandatory retirement ages.


  • Discrimination (n) - the practice of treating one person or group differently from another in an unfair way.
  • Pension (n) - an amount of money paid regularly by the government or company to someone who does not work any more, for example because they have reached the age when people stop working.
  • Retirement (n) - when you stop working, usually because of your age
  • Elderly (a) - used as a polite way of saying that someone is old or becoming old
  • Suitability (n) - the degree to which something or someone has the right qualities for a particular purpose
  • Vitality (n) - great energy and eagerness to do things
  • Recruit (v) - to find new people to work in a company, join an organization, do a job etc
  • Mandatory (a) - if something is mandatory, the law says it must be done
  • Ageism (n) - unfair treatment of people because they are old




The elderly may be just as capable as the young.Since age is not necessarily an indication of inferior ability or potential, treating a person less favourably purely on the basis of their age is just as unreasonable and unfair as doing so on the basis of his race or religion. If a particular elderly worker truly has, say, less concentration or manual strength than a younger worker, and this objectively and reasonably makes him less qualified for the particular job, then employers can still make their decisions based on his relative lack of suitability for the job – not on his age. Age by itself should not be a determinant.  In theory hiring should be based on ability. In reality certain abilities may be hard to truly test so employers use age as a proxy for them – in the same way that they use sports as an indication of one’s ‘ability to work in a team’. age is often an indicator of qualities such as concentration, memory, energy, and so on. These qualities may be important: a fashion designer may justifiably want his salespersons to have a certain level of energy and vitality; it is crucial that air traffic controllers and surgeons have very high levels of fitness and concentration.


Discriminatory practices in recruitment and promotion cause detriment to the economy.Age discrimination reduces productivity because job and advancement opportunities are inefficiently matched to workers and talent is wasted. Higher participation rates among older workers lead to better matching of jobs to people, increased employment rates, and enhanced competition among workers that will stimulate the labour market in the longer run.  Laws against age discrimination may merely lead to old people working more, instead of more old people working.Research on age discrimination laws in the U.S. shows that the ‘increase in employment rates’ of older workers are due mostly to them staying on in jobs for longer, rather than an increase in rates of hiring among older workers. 
Having few older workers also increases the amount the government needs to spend on unemployment and other benefits, and decreases tax revenues. This strain on public resources is increasingly critical in many developed countries given their ageing populations, the projected increases in the dependency ratio, and the pay-as-you go nature of state pension schemes.  Many of the purported ‘benefits’ for the government budget in fact involve nothing more than ‘pure transfers’: the government spends less on health and other benefits – but only because the employer is now paying for them. The cost and the resource strain do not disappear – it is simply transferred from the government to the employers. 
Without age discrimination and a mandatory retirement age, employers benefit from lower turnover and thus lower recruitment costs and effort, because workers stay on at work longer than they would otherwise have done. The DTI estimates that this benefit to businesses will amount to £39m in the first year alone.
By contrast, discrimination discourages potentially talented job seekers from applying. Right from the recruitment stage, employers lose by having a smaller pool of workers to draw upon, and by failing to make the most of the existing skills potential of the population. 
Without a mandatory retirement age, employers are suddenly obliged to continue paying into people’s pensions much longer than they expected to, and to put up with other significant increases in costs such as higher insurance premiums, more expensive healthcare benefit plans, and so on. Furthermore, at any firm there are always a limited number of senior jobs. If these are taken up by older workers staying on indefinitely, firms may find it hard to recruit, motivate and retain younger workers looking to replace them, leading to high turnover among younger staff. 
Ageism is the most prevalent form of discrimination in the workforce today.Legislation can help to change these prejudiced attitudes if it operates in conjunction with other policies to promote equal rights and educate employers and workers about their obligations and rights. By protecting a group in society that is often left out and less advantaged, we are also raising the level of equality in society.  In Australia, Canada and the US, where anti-discrimination laws have long been in place, there is no clear evidence so far of any significant shift in the attitude of employers and society to older workers. In fact, there is some evidence that employers may be less likely to hire older workers, and younger co-workers may be more resentful, because employers are not allowed to set mandatory retirement ages. 


Debate topic © International Debate Education Association (http://idebate.org), used under Creative Commons license.

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