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Today’s working seniors treated like women were decades ago

Wednesday, October 20, 2010  
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Older Americans in the workplace are treated today much like working women were 40 years ago, according to an recent article in U.S. News & and World Report.

Much like women were regarded in the past, older people are often considered incapable of meaningful employment roles, especially if they have visible physical limitations, according to the report.

"I think that's absolutely right," Muriel Fox, a co-founder of the National Organization for Women in the 1960s, told U.S. News & World report. "When people see someone who has gray hair or who has wrinkles or is even unable to do certain things, like walking without a cane, they often stereotype that person and think that they may not be able to think clearly or do certain things. Women have been infantilized over the years. And so are older people.”

As with women, the workplace is likely to be a major stage on which shifting perceptions of older people plays out, the magazine reported. Driven by financial need and a desire to stay engaged, large numbers of older Americans want to continue working in their 60s and 70s.

While women have made real gains, age discrimination continues to be an impediment to women at work, according to Terry O'Neill, current NOW president. "Women over 50 are having a heck of a time finding employment" in this economy, she told the magazine.

However, in the 1970s, giving women limited roles "served a larger purpose of subordinating women to the men in their lives,” O’Neill said. "That's not the case with older people today."

Past attitudes about women and current attitudes about seniors reflect people's slowness to embrace change, the NOW president said. "We have our ways of doing things," she noted, and people have difficulty accepting those who don't conform to stereotypes.

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