Ageism: the forgotten discrimination?

Whilst some forms of discrimination have been outlawed for decades, discrimination on the basis of calendar age has only more recently been the subject of legislation. In the UK, age discrimination (in employment) was first outlawed in 2006. The Equality Act 2010 is the new law which is set to provide protection against age discrimination in employment, training and adult education for people of all ages. When the Act comes fully into force in 2012, it will for the first time introduce protection against discrimination on the basis of age in goods and services, including health and social care services.

There is plenty of evidence that the formal prohibition of age discrimination is needed. For example, in 2009, a National Review of Age Discrimination in Health and Social Care (for the Department of Health) concluded that ageist attitudes were affecting investigation and treatment levels for older people. Research for the UK charity Age UK (published in March 2011) shows that age discrimination is the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe. In the UK, 64 per cent of those interviewed said that age discrimination was a serious problem. The survey found that those people aged over 50 were very concerned that employers would tend to give a job to someone aged in their 20s rather than an older person. In the UK, 49.7 per cent of those interviewed judged this perceived tendency on the part of employers to favour younger rather than older workers to be a problem. British people were above the European average in believing that prejudice towards other age groups is wrong. Nonetheless, the survey also showed that older people in the UK were looked upon as being friendlier, but also as less competent than by people in the rest of the Europe. Across Europe, people aged 70 or over were shown to be at the age least likely to be envied. There have also been high profile cases involving ageism claims, such as Miriam O’Reilly’s case against the BBC in January 2011.

Although the new legislation is intended to outlaw discrimination on the basis of age for people at all stage of the life course, much of the wider debate about ageism is actually about the prejudices experienced by older people. Yet, children, teenagers and young adults can also be subjected to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. You only have to think of shops displaying notices saying ‘No unaccompanied children’ or ‘No more than three school children are allowed in the shop at any one time’. Young drivers pay more for their car insurance than older drivers, and young workers get lower levels of the minimum wage on the basis of their calendar age. It is unlikely that the Equality Act will operate to eliminate these kinds of ageism against children and young people, but on the whole it is a welcome development. Alongside stronger and more widespread laws outlawing ageism, however, we also need a change in everyday attitudes as to what a person’s calendar age can, or can not, tell us about their interests and activities, their attitudes and beliefs, and their competencies and experiences.

The life and times of a journal article

My article ‘What Not to Wear? Girls, Clothing and Showing the Body’ has finally been published. I say finally, not in criticism of the workings of the journal that it is published in, but as a description of the life and times that this article has been through.

First written in 2005, an earlier version of this article was submitted to a highly ranked UK journal of sociology but, after a reviewing period of several months, was rejected outright. Next, the article was submitted to a highly ranked European journal of sociology. Despite acknowledging its receipt, the editors never let me have a decision and did not respond to emails or snailmail (postal) queries about its status. Essentially, I was ignored! Taking their resounding silence over a period of half a year as a hint that my work was not wanted, I submitted it elsewhere.

The article was eventually submitted to Children and Society in December 2008. It was finally accepted for publication in April 2009, and published ‘virtually’ (early view) online in June 2009. The paper copy of the journal in which my article appears has a publication date of November 2010

Published journal articles then take on even more of a life of their own, of course. My article ‘Mannheim’s Sociololgy of Generations’ was first published sixteen years ago in the British Journal of Sociology in September 1994. According to Google Scholar at least, it has been cited over 70 times in other publications. The article now lives on in cyberspace, made readily available to audiences by others (not by the publisher directly, and not by myself) as a complete PDF download (for example,

I wonder what will happen to ‘What Not to Wear?’ in sixteen years time?

The uses of sociology: happiness on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed

For some time now, BBC Radio Four’s Thinking Allowed programme has been an important pathway for sociologists who wish to engage in ‘public sociology’. The program is presented by the sociologist Laurie Taylor, and is described as ‘new research on how society works’. According to Michael Burawoy (2005), public sociology is sociology presented to a wide, non-academic audience in an accessible and relevant way in order to share the ideas, arguments and research of sociologists. Through public sociology, the social, political and personal uses and potential of sociology is highlighted: it helps people understand society as it is now and can show them how things might be bettered.

Check out the recent edition of the programme which focuses on happiness and features one of my colleagues at the University of Leicester,
Dr David Bartram. David talks about his research on economic migrants and whether their higher income leads to their happiness. The ‘happiness work’ that comes with working as a hairdresser is also discussed via the sociological work of Rachel Cohen, who is a Senior Research Fellow at University of Warwick

You can find out more about Thinking Allowed at

Burawoy, M. (2005) ‘For public sociology’,American Sociological Review, Vol. 70, Issue 1, 4-28.