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Ageism: ‘Suck it up and move on’

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

I've been working on a story for's retirement channel on dealing with age discrimination. In the process of researching it, I talked to Howard Eglit, a professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law, a labor arbitrator and expert on discrimination issues. Here's his tough-talking view of this retirement planning issue.

Eglit says: "There is no question that older people confront a phenomenon called ageism, a kind of bigotry that occurs not only in the workplace, but everyplace.

"Look at birthday cards. Forty percent of birthday cards make fun of various aspects of getting older -- suggesting that older people are constipated, forgetful, sexually inadequate ...

"In the workplace, you find the same kinds of assumptions. Older people are regarded as being lacking in current skills, especially computer skills. Is that true? Yes, to some extent that's true. Computer use isn't second nature for people born before the computer age.

"Older people are thought of as being deadwood -- less creative. Is that true? Probably so. If you've been working for 25 or 30 years, you aren't going to be as eager-beaver as a 25-year-old.

"Older people are regarded as being physically challenged. When older people get sick, they are out of the workforce for longer periods of time. Injuries and illness are a bigger deal. But the accident and absentee rate is actually lower for older workers than it is for younger workers. Younger workers are much more likely to call in and take a day off here and there. But when older people get sick, they are out for much longer.

"Older workers are thought to be more expensive because of health insurance. That depends on the size of the employer. When you have 10,000 employees, a skewing toward older workers isn't going to make much of a difference. If you have a workplace with 30 workers and 20 of them are 50 or older, health insurance is going to be more expensive because of greater usage.

"Older people are thought to be mentally slower than younger people -- you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But that isn't true. The studies are consistent in saying that older people don't suffer intellectual deficits.

"Most of these are widespread cultural misunderstandings. When employers rely on them, they generally don't have discrimination in mind. They are simply accepting commonly held beliefs. So age discrimination is very hard to prove.

"That's not to say that it can't be devastating. When a 55-year-old white male who is a vice president of a bank making $110,000 a year loses his job, the likelihood of him being able to find another job with equal responsibility and pay is slim. Another bank isn't going to hire him because he doesn't have skills that can't be replicated by someone 35 who is willing to work for much less money."

So what do people do when it happens to them?

"Suck it up, and move on with your life. When people lose their jobs at this age, they are always so angry and hurt.  It is devastating -- financially and psychologically. People identify with their jobs, but they have to move on."

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July 09, 2012 at 4:34 pm

"Suck it up, and move on with your life." is good advice for individuals. Nobody wants to hire someone who's bitter, just like nobody wants to date someone who talks endlessly about an ex-spouse. And while you could work long-term to change cultural stereotypes, in the short term you need a job.

In the privacy of your home, feel free to put up a dartboard with your previous employer on it, but your public face needs to be forward looking.

July 09, 2012 at 3:21 pm

"Suck it up and move on" is too harsh. As someone who is female and over 55, I see a lot of ageism stereotype. Good planning, learn technology, network with others, and keep physically active. I am an IT support manager. Instead of being fearful, ask a lot of questions! read technology magazines (library) and technology columns in the newspaper.... Believe it or not! my college age kids come to me for IT support and software questions. Keep learning and keep your mind and body active... I just completed my MBA, working full-time, and putting my kids through college. Networking... this keeps you connected to others... don't give in to "suck it up and move on"!

July 09, 2012 at 6:48 am

"When a 55-year-old white male who is a vice president of a bank making $110,000 a year loses his job, the likelihood of him being able to find another job with equal responsibility and pay is slim.

What if the vice president wasn't white?

July 09, 2012 at 6:35 am

Older workers are better in hospitality and service based jobs.

July 07, 2012 at 10:40 am

This is all true, but suck it up??? Not on your life! If people had "sucked" things up through the ages, we would never have evolved. There would be no protests, revolutions, or change! Did this country suck it up when they wanted freedom? We would still be singing "God Save the Queen". Did women suck it up when they wanted the vote? Or equal rights? It's because of those women who refused to suck up that you're even writing this article. What about black and white segregation in the 60's? Suck it up? No way. Fight and win.
You must be young. You'll just have to suck it up until you're older.

July 02, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I guess one has to make the best of a bad situation.
15 years ago it wasn't uncommon to hear people say that they were keen to retire at 50. They were going to start a new life. And many of them did.

Chris Toughill
June 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I am 56, and new to this "55 and older" mindset. I am and have been self employed for years, so I haven't really considered what it would be like to get a job at my age. This article was kind of a wake up. My business is actually growing slowly, and I am getting close to needing a third full time employee. I think I'll make it a point to hire an older worker when I hire again, all other qualifications being equal. Meanwhile, I'll count my blessings.

June 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I am 62. Yes, I've lost a step when it comes to memory and the capacity to quickly learn. I already have a ton of experience and knowledge at the ready. I write everything down and keep extensive logs of my engineering efforts. I can go back to my notes on something I worked seven years ago and not miss a beat. One other thing -- I belong to a fitness center. My metric is that I can still do pull-ups. I'm not grossly overweight and I look reasonably fit. Getting old sucks but there are things you can do to mitigate the ravages of time. Whether that closes the sale on getting a job is not within your control but you can make efforts to maintain or improve your health. I am contemplating retirement -- I am being treatly badly by my employer. They have an agenda to poorly rate (and no raise, no bonus to rub it in) the older people so that they will get disgusted and leave. I am very close to that point. Ageism is alive and well for both applicants and employees.

June 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

As a low level manager in charge of hiring, firing and coaching I find this to be unfortunate. For me I have been in my business for 17 years, since the age of 16, so I have experienced the reverse type of discrimination.

In conducting employee reviews this year an employee was surprised to hear me ask, what direction they were hoping to grow toward and how I could help them reach their goal. She is older, but I don't know her specific age and I told her that I have been judged my whole career...I'm not assuming anything about anyone!

I actually find the work ethic of the people in my own generation to be lacking significantly! While they want to go places, they don't want to do the work necessary to get there...they want it handed to them. I was raised by a woman that work in human resources and always put work ahead of wverything else. She had to work harder, longer and better than her male counterparts and she instilled a work ethic in me from day one. She also did not just hand me money and clothes or whatever I wanted, so at age 10 I was delivering newspapers in our apartment building, at age 12 I added babysitting and then just always earned my own way.

While I think as the professor states, it probably does happen, I think everyone, regardless of age should stand up for themselves and fight against those stereo types if they really want it. I don't know on a resume quite how old you are, so when we meet in person you need to tell me how you do not fit that stereo type!