There are very good reasons that most discussion about ageism has focussed on discrimination against older people. However, ageism for younger people is deeply engrained in government policy and social norms.
If we truly want to build a society with inter-generational cohesion and the widest possible social inclusion then we need to be as committed to addressing discrimination against younger people whether direct or indirect.
It is not enough to lower the voting age or create socially acceptable segregated forums for young people such as Youth Parliaments. Here are some examples of institutionalised age discrimination against young people.
Young People excluded from Progressing in Work
Government policy has been to extend the education and training for young people longer and longer into their adult life. No longer can you leave school at 14. In fact, many older people fail to recognise that at 16, you’re still expected to go into further education or training. If you join an apprenticeship programme, or you have a university career, it may not be until your early 20s that you’ve completed your first pass of education. Implicit in all of this is that you’re not fit to take meaningful work opportunities, until your early 20s. You could say that there is a government policy of indirect age discrimination and it’s preventing young people accessing meaningful work opportunities earlier in their lives.
But for young people ageism doesn’t end here. Yes, there are one or two individuals who’ve become celebrities by building million-pound businesses before they are 20, but generally it’s very hard for young people to be put into significant positions of responsibility before their mid 20s.
In the past, the armed services did have great opportunities for people to come in and take a huge amount of responsibility very early in their careers. Officer training programmes or the opportunities to have sponsored university courses, may mean that you can come in as an officer rank at a very young age. Large graduate employers, like Unilever, traditionally had very demanding graduate programs, where again, you are given lots of responsibility, perhaps for a whole brand, very early in your career. But elsewhere, the trend to extending education into your mid 20s, means that early responsibility at work is denied to many young people.
The chartered institutions of various professions, also build this ageism into their processes. There are one off examples of people going to Oxford or Cambridge in their late teens but so many of our formal education policies actively mitigate against young people having early opportunities to show what they can achieve.
Younger People Under Paid
I certainly remember many years ago how frustrated I was that my agricultural wage picking strawberries, was determined by my age and not the speed at which I could pick strawberries. This kind of salary ageism built into government regulation persists, with both the way the apprentice schemes work, and the way that the national living wage works. It’s all too easy for employers to buy into these norms, rather than recognising young talent for what it can offer them.
Exclusion by Age Related Benefits
Both the level and access to benefits are often determined by age. Until you qualify as a mature student the cost of your university education depends on your family’s income even though you are otherwise treated as an independent adult. Free TV licences for younger people? No! You have to wait until you are over 75 to be eligible. Universal Credit rates 2022/3 if joint claimants are under 25 is £416.45, more than £100 less than if one of the claimants is 25 or over. Winter fuel allowance – you must be born before 26th September 1956 to qualify.
Advocating against Ageism for Younger People
So, if you’re over 45 and you think ageism is just for older people, think again. Talk to the young people in your life to understand their frustrations and where they feel they’re being ignored simply because of their age. Until we address ageism at both ends of the spectrum, we will not have a movement that truly values everybody equally for who they are and what they can do.