The shocking rise of age discrimination

Sarah Coles
Older workers face discrimination
Older workers face discrimination

Four in ten people over the age of 50 have faced age discrimination. Employers are apparently the biggest source of unfair treatment, and almost half of older people feel they are treated like second class citizens in the workplace.

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Top five places for age discrimination
1. In the work place
2. While out shopping
3. While driving
4. While eating out at pubs, restaurants and bars
5. On public transport

The research, from SunLife, found that 62% of people felt they had missed out on a job because of their age, while almost half felt they had been overlooked for promotion. One respondent was told by a recruitment agency it would be 'difficult to place her' due to her age, while another asked to be put on a course only to be told by their employer they would rather give it to someone younger to get 'better value'.

Women reported even more age discrimination at work than men. After turning 50, 11% said they felt isolated and left out of team bonding exercises, social events and meetings at work - while one in ten have faced negative remarks about their age from colleagues. One in twenty even said they felt they were encouraged, or forced, to retire.

It reflects findings earlier this month from ADP, which found that a fifth of all UK workers say age is the biggest factor getting in the way of their career.


The workplace is far from the only place where age discrimination runs rampant. The study also found that 50% of people feel ignored by shop staff.

One in twenty said they had been asked if they were lost when they were looking at clothes that weren't specifically aimed at their age bracket. Almost one in four have been ignored while waiting or queuing for something, a third have been spoken to unnecessarily slowly and around one in six have been called a nickname such as grandma or old man.

One in twenty have even had someone communicate to them through a younger person they are with rather than directly.

SunLife marketing director Ian Atkinson pointed out how ridiculous it is to write off such a huge and vital part of society - pointing out that: "50 is definitely not 'old', and with life expectancy (and retirement age) rising year on year, life after 50 certainly doesn't mean the need to slow down or 'take it easy' – and more brands and businesses need to realise that."

However, rather than people cottoning on to the outdated nature of stereotypes, 28% of people said that age discrimination was actually getting worse.


One alarming finding from the study was that three in ten think their GP treats them differently than they did when they were younger. And while it's always irritating to be patronised, it can also have a really serious impact on your health if your symptoms are not taken seriously.

While the NHS officially treats all patients equally - regardless of age - those who have seen discrimination in the GP surgery may well worry that they are considered less of a priority for treatment, because they've already 'had a good innings'.

What can you do?

The Equality Act officially makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers or trainees because of their age. This can include those who are over 40 and those who are younger than average. Technically if you are the victim of age discrimination - either directly or indirectly - then you can take a case to an employment tribunal.

However, the cost and hassle involved, means it's worth talking to your employer first, to see whether you can address it in a less formal manner. If they don't respond to this, you have every right to go to a tribunal to enforce your rights. Alternatively, it may be worth investigating your other options, and considering employers who are more welcoming of a diverse workforce.

The good news is that they do exist. Co-operative Funeralcare, for example, says that one in three of its apprentices are over the age of 50. Over time, there's every chance that the aging population will force employers to think beyond the old-fashioned stereotypes, and embrace a bit of age diversity. Andy Briggs, the Government's Business Champion for Older Workers, has called for every employer to increase the number of people aged 50-70 that they employ by 12% by 2022.

Of course, in time, those over the age of 50 won't be a minority that faces discrimination. They already make up 46% of the adult population, and the older population is one of the fastest-growing in society. In just a few short years, the over 50s will be in the majority, and it's going to be difficult for employers, shops, or healthcare professionals to dismiss more than half of the adult population as being too old to bother with.

But what do you think? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your age? Let us know in the comments.