Countering ageism at work

Discriminating against people due to age became formerly illegal under the Equality Act 2010. Underpinning this landmark legislation was research showing the extent of ageism in society. In 1989 the 'Age Discrimination in Employment' project became the first to systematically examine employers' attitudes towards older workers, based on a national survey of workplaces with 500 or more employees.

The ESRC-funded research, led by Professor Alan Walker at the University of Sheffield, showed that employers discriminated both positively ("older workers are more reliable") and negatively ("older workers can't learn new skills"). There was also a 'catch-22' attitude towards training older employees – they were the least likely to receive training in employment, but also seen as 'lacking skills'.

The research formed the basis for several UK policy initiatives to combat age barriers in employment, boosted ageism research in other European countries and led to the production of good practice guidelines in all European languages – supporting the development of the European Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.