Ageism: The One Form Of Discrimination We All Have In Common

Photo courtesy of Social Innovation Camp via Flickr

No matter what your age, you are probably going to be discriminated against, or face restrictive road blocks based on your age.

From squealing infants to fresh-faced millennials, to aging boomers and the world’s eldest, discriminatory or restrictive policies and attitudes are widespread.


Ageism” refers to stereotyping and discriminating individuals or groups of people on the basis of their age, either casually or systematically. Though typically used to describe discrimination against the elderly, age-related biases span a wide spectrum to which no one is wholly exempt.

Kids and teens

It makes sense that some age restrictions are placed on young people. Rules on driving age, voting age, and working age are often points of contention, but are useful in drawing lines for youth safety.

Age restrictions in the United States:

  • Under 8: Cannot know right from wrong in court of law
  • Under 14: Cannot have a job
  • Under 16: Cannot drive, cannot have a full time job
  • Under 18: Cannot vote, marry, smoke, sign binding contracts, etc

Working teenagers are also paid less, on average, than adults with the same job: “youth wages” may pay people under 20 $4.25 an hour.


Some describe discrimination against children and teens as adultism, which may be a more harmful form of ageism than legal restrictions. Adultism is the favoring of adults over young people, which results in the discounting of young peoples’ ideas, opinions, and decisions.

Minors (anyone under the age of 18) may face attitudes which foster ingrained doubts about their legitimacy and abilities as people. Institutionally, minors have little agency, with legal guardians holding control regardless of the young person’s wishes.

Youth discrimination is as such that young people report it with more frequency than both racism and sexism — likely because it is more universally perceived, spanning gender and ethnicity.

Twenties and thirties

Once you’ve crossed the threshold into adulthood, your twenties, and even your thirties, things change; responsibilities increase, certainly, but you are still subject to certain restrictions and social judgement.

Age restrictions in the U.S:

  • Under 21: Cannot drink alcohol, gamble, purchase firearm
  • Under 25: Cannot rent a car
  • Over 26: Cannot share parents’ health insurance, get student discounts
  • Over 27, 29: Cannot join Air Force, Marines
  • Over 34: Cannot join Army, Navy
  • Under 35: Cannot run for President
  • Over 39: Cannot join Coast Guard


[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”xOZVoVLROnaDbGp2phftQcE9J4TiMPSm”]Attitude wise, twenty-somethings, the millennial poster-children, have been found to be viewed most negatively in the workplace; worse than even those in their 70s in terms of morality, friendliness, and competence.

Older millennials in their late 20s and early 30s, who entered the workforce in a declining economy, may have trouble getting their foot in the door, as employers often favor recent graduates for entry-level positions.

In Silicon Valley, those in their mid-30s are deemed less valuable, less capable than younger counterparts, in what the New Republic describes as “brutal ageism.”

In dating, sorry 30-somethings — if you want Tinder Plus, you have to pay more; online matchmaking favors the under 30 crowd.

Forties and fifties


If you’ve reached middle-age with a good career, you may be in good shape; according to Census data, the age-wage peak is between 45 and 54.

But if you are outside of the workplace, things may be even more difficult. When many were laid off following the 2008 financial crisis, it took those aged 45 to 60 a year on average to find a job; two months longer than those aged 25 to 44, in part because employers view younger workers as more flexible and less expensive.

Some people call this form of discrimination jeunism, a term that describes favoring young people for their vitality, fitness, and even physical beauty. This type of treatment may extend outside of just employment into social treatment as well.

Sixty and up


So you’ve lived a fairly long and fruitful life and would like to relax a bit. There are a lot of things to look forward to in later years, but unfortunately, freedom from discrimination is not one of them.

Age restriction in the U.S.:

  • Under 62: Cannot receive any SS benefits
  • Under 65: Cannot receive senior discounts
  • Under 66: (Retirement age) Cannot receive all of SS benefits


Discrimination against the elderly is more of a social and cultural issue than a legal one. The attitude, sadly, is pervasive: in a recent Duke University study, 80 percent of respondents over age 60 reported unfair treatment due to age.

This ranges from patronizing language, to assumption of mental impairment, to workplace discrimination, to unfair medical treatment.

Stereotypes that label older people as incompetent, demanding, and slow are helpful to no one, as most in their 60s today can expect to live well into their 80s.

The moral of the story? Whether you be old or young, there will always be something you just can’t do. Age restrictions have their purposes, yes, but discrimination never does — at the end of the day, though you don’t have to like old people, young people, or anyone else,  all humans deserve fair treatment.

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Jennifer Markert