Ageing and Society

Ageism and employment: controversies, ambiguities and younger people's perceptions

a1 Department of Business Studies and the Management School, The University of Edinburgh


This paper traces the emergence and evolution of the concept of ageism with respect to employment matters in the UK, and challenges some features of the emerging concept as defective and undermining of efforts to eradicate age discrimination in employment. Also revealed is some loosening in recent years of the association of the term ‘ageism’ with older employees. This latter observation informed the focus of our empirical work, which examined the views of 460 Business Studies students concerning age and employment. A significant proportion had experienced ageism directly in employment, and a large majority favoured the introduction of legislative protection against age discrimination, with blanket coverage irrespective of age. Though negative stereotypes regarding older workers were by no means uncommon among the sample, little firm evidence emerged of intergenerational tensions or resentment towards older people. The concluding section considers the policy implications of our findings, including the relative merits of weighting policy responses towards older employees. It is argued that initiatives restricted in this way, and further constrained by commercial imperatives and macro-economic objectives, are likely to prove divisive and self-defeating as a means of combating ageism.

(Accepted January 17 2000)

Key Words: Ageism; age discrimination; early exit; employment; attitudes; decline; younger people.

c1 Address for correspondence: Wendy Loretto, Department of Business Studies and the Management School, The University of Edinburgh, William Robertson Building, 50 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JY.