At 80 years old, Hubert Elliot is North Carolina's oldest Department of Transportation Worker. Photo by NCDOT Communications via
At 80 years old, Hubert Elliot is North Carolina’s oldest Department of Transportation Worker. Photo by NCDOT Communications via

As the baby boomers age, so does the American workforce. It is projected that by the end of this decade, a quarter of the nation’s workforce will be fifty-five or older. Sociologist Amy Blackstone, of the University of Maine, took interest and undertook a study of this group’s workplace experiences. In a piece for the Bangor Daily News, Blackstone explains the distressing results:

While older workers generally report positive experiences on the job, there are notable patterns in the harmful experiences they report. A significant number of older workers report feeling undervalued and bullied at work. Further, many older workers do not speak up about their negative experiences, nor do those who witness bullying or harassment of older workers intervene on their behalf.

In Blackstone’s survey results, older workers said they felt devalued by their younger coworkers, as though they were useless. They felt ignored and even bullied. One woman wrote:

“After about age 60-65, I began to notice that people would sometimes ignore me as though I had become invisible.”

Blackstone provides a few suggestions for improving employment for older workers. These include educating and reminding employers and employees of the importance of a positive workplace atmosphere, the knowledge and experience older workers may hold, and the need for support and bystander intervention.

Photo by Jan Siefert via flickr
Photo by Jan Siefert via flickr

Some experience discrimination throughout their lives, while, for others, it’s simply living long enough that leads to discrimination. According to research from Clemson University sociologist Ye Luo and her team that’s reported in The New York TimesNew Old Age blog, nearly two thirds of those over age 53 report having been discriminated against—and the leading cause they report isn’t gender, race, or disability. It’s age.

Now, on its own, this statistic isn’t terribly surprising—many studies have turned up high levels of ageism. But Luo told the Times she was shocked that, over the two-year period of their study, everyday discrimination was found to be associated with higher levels of depression and worse self-reported health. The association held true even as the researchers controlled for general stress resulting from financial problems, illness, and traumatic events. As the Times reports:

Interestingly, the discrimination effect was stronger for everyday slights and suspicions (including whether people felt harassed or threatened, or whether they felt others were afraid of them) than for more dramatic evens like being denied a job or promotion or being unfairly detained or questioned by the police. “Awful things happen and it’s a big shock, but people have ways to resist that damage,” Dr. Luo said. “With maturity, people learn coping skills.” Every day discrimination works differently, apparently. “It may be more difficult to avoid or adapt to,” Dr. Luo suggested. “It takes a toll you may not even realize.”

Although trends may shift as more data comes into focus, it’s already clear that the well-being of older adults is being affected when they experience ageism in their social interactions.