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[STAYING PUT] Mandatory retirement ageist, violates one's dignity

Even as older people seem prepared to extend their careers, ageism’s influence in the workplace threatens to hold them back, according to an analysis by Nancy Jecker, a University of Washington bioethicist. Mandatory retirement is the focus of the paper, and the analysis identifies familiar ethical objections to mandatory retirement — fairness and equality — but breaks ground by tying the workplace to another principle that Jecker says has been overlooked: dignity.  She identifies it as “the minimal respect that people are due” and holds that society must equally support the dignity of every individual.

“Forced retirement robs people not just of wages but also of enriching aspects of daily life, like socializing with others.," Jecker says. "Jobs can be major sources of dignity and pride, and provide feelings of worth and purpose. In pushing someone out solely based on age, an employer is arbitrarily saying ‘You’re not up to the task,’ which is a put-down.” 

The US moved to halt mandatory retirement in 1967 with the Age Discrimination Employment Act. Although the law and subsequent amendments banned compulsory retirement in all but a few job roles, public surveys indicate that ageism thrives in the US workplace and outside of it, too. The Urban Institute reported that 55% of new retirees in 2014 felt “forced or partly forced” out of their last job. In 2020, a University of Michigan poll found that 82% of adults ages 50-80 reported experiencing ageism in their day-to-day lives.

While specific job tasks may require dramatically different capabilities, such as those of a plumber, a professor and professional athlete, the notion of work for pay is “interwoven with the central things we can do and be as human beings,” Jecker writes; therefore, dignity, a core human value, is central to people’s opportunity to work. 

Older people in the US have recently shown a desire to stay in the workforce longer. According to a 2021 Census Bureau report, between 2010 and 2019, labor-force participation among people 75 and older rose in 36 states and fell in none, and among people 65-74, it rose in 25 states and fell in only two.

“I think that's a hopeful sign, though it doesn’t say what kind of employment opportunities they have,” Jecker said. “The US has long been a youth-oriented culture. To prevent ageist workplaces, we need to be more inclusive of ‘working age’ people 65 years and older.”

To access the article, “The dignity of work: An ethical argument against mandatory retirement,” click here for options

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