Age Discrimination and Mandatory Retirement

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Age Discrimination and Mandatory Retirement - Joyce Cook

The mandatory retirement age controversy should be re-examined and redefined further. Baby boomers are very different from their predecessors; they are living longer, maintain lifestyles that are more active and are generally better able to continue working than in the past. The real challenge is the reality of how the insufficient number of young people will fill the vacancies left by the aging workforce.

Mandatory retirement may be unavoidable, as older workers are forced from the work field to create more vacancies for new younger employees. According to most seniors, it is an unfair practice and does not take into account if the person wants to retire; it also does not take into account the mental and physical capabilities or financial position of the person. Not a popular subject by most studies, often it has some effect on many elderly baby boomers plans on how they retire. Since it involves less than 1 percent of the working population, retirement only opens a small fraction of the total jobs and affects a tiny portion of the population. There is no need to force retirement to create vacancies; most workers retire voluntarily, and still do so even though mandatory retirement is outlawed in most of the United States.

Critics for mandatory retirement of pilots at age 60, worry that safety may be compromised, since pilots in their 60’s may find it tougher to battle fatigue or rebound from jet lag than younger colleagues. The Air Line Pilots Association, (ALPA) and the Allied Pilots Association, (APA) has long been supportive of the “age 60 rule”. However, the Pilot Medical Solutions position has always believed the mandatory retirement of pilots was a political issue rather than one of safety or medicine. In 2007, President George W. Bush raised the controversial pilot retirement age to 65, yielding to the majority of pilots and aerospace engineers who believed the old 1950 rule was an arbitrary number chosen without substantial evidence correlating age to safety.Pilots agree that the new law now reflects the reality that today’s 60 year olds are physically fit enough to continue flying, and their experience should not be taken out of the cockpit.

Mandatory retirement is a form of age discrimination that serves as the foundation of a form of prejudice and discrimination of older adults called ageism, a term first coined by Robert Butler (1969), chairperson of a congressional committee on aging in 1968. During an earlier era, the same discriminatory argument was directed at women workers, which suggested married women, should stay out of the workforce and preserve jobs for men. This is no different from the contemporary argument that older workers should retire and make room for younger workers. Critics have observed, “Mandatory retirement is a polite phrase for employment discrimination – or for being fired because of age” (Gillen and Klassen, 2000, p.61).

Nearly two thirds of business executives and over 80 percent of adults were opposed to setting a mandatory retirement age. Denying employment based on age alone is not acceptable and it is contrary to equal employment opportunity and discriminatory laws. It seems odd that so many adults are opposed to mandatory retirement and yet it is still enforced in many workplaces.

The 65 and older population is projected to increase from 12 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2030. In 1950, there was one elderly person to every seven workers. In the year 2000, the ratio was one in five and projected to increase to one in three in 2050. With the impending retirement of the baby boom generation, employers face the loss of many experienced workers and quite possibly skill gaps in certain occupations. This could have an adverse effect on productivity and economic growth. Furthermore, the expected increased ratio of the elderly to those of working ages will place added stress on...
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