Understanding the Causes of Age Discrimination

Freechild Project Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre
Age discrimination is everywhere. It’s our culture of age discrimination that ensures everyone discriminated against because of their age, and everyone will discriminate against someone because of their age at some point in their lives. Until we recognize this cause-and-effect relationship we all experience, we cannot truly fight any aspect of age discrimination.

Understanding Age

First, we have to recognize there is an age continuum that has been made up in our society. This continuum assumes abilities, knowledge, interest, and output for people according to their ages.
On a continuum, there are four primary roles:
  • Child—Generally situated anywhere between the ages of birth and adulthood, in my analysis childhood focuses on birth to the age of youth.
  • Youth—Between the ages of child and adult is a unique position called youth. Varying according to cultural tradition, youth can include ages 12 to 18, 12 to 21, 12 to 25, or even 12 to 34.
  • Adult—Generally agreed on as a period of general social acceptance, adulthood is commonly seen as the period from age 18 through to being seen as a senior, or older person.
  • Older—Also called seniors or geriatrics, older people are treated as a distinct population starting around age 65. They may demonstrate physical or mental signs of aging, or simply be treated differently because of their age.

These four roles in society determine attitudes towards them, and in turn, treatments of them. They aren’t necessarily negative all the time; instead, the treatment variates according to environment, culture, socio-economic background, physical ability, and other identities.


How Age Discrimination Works by Adam Fletcher for The Freechild Project
How Age Discrimination Works (c) 2016 by Adam Fletcher for The Freechild Project.


How Age Discrimination Works

  • Adultism, which is bias towards adults, leads to all other forms of age discrimination. It does this by supporting cultures, attitudes and systems of distrust, disrespect and disdain towards anyone who is not seen as an adult.
  • Adultism fosters pediaphobia, which is the fear of children. Seen as less-than-adults, children are infantalized and generally belittled through language and actions that constantly impose adult power, control and authority over them.
  • Ephebiphobia is the fear of youth. Caused by the segregation of young people from adults that truly takes form in the preteen years and leads to the alienation and demonization of youth until adulthood.
  • Adultism makes older people aliens to their own existence through gerontophobia, demeaning and disempowering them as routinely and consistently as children and youth. However, as aged adults, older people can exert their authority through gerontocracy, which is when older people control people, organizations, nations and the world simply because of their age.


Exploring the Differences

However, in the vast majority of circumstances throughout our society, adults are treated most favorably. Adultcentrism is a dominant feature throughout communities, governments, homes and families, faith-based communities, and even schools.

Adultcentrism is based on adultism, which is bias towards adults. This bias is the central force in causing the three resultant phenomena of pediaphobia, which is the fear of children; ephebiphobia, which is fear of youth; and gerontophobia, which is fear of older people. While all of these are reliant on each other for their emphasis and power, each is rooted in the primary bias towards adults.The Relationships Between Age DiscriminationsConsistently favoring adults leads to these discriminations in a variety of ways. Namely, adultism is used internally by individuals to justify their fears of alternating age groups of which they don’t belong or don’t favor.


Causes for Discrimination

Adults may dislike children because they appear remote from behaving, acting, looking like, or becoming adults. This dislike is rationalized by developing a fear due to the perception of remoteness among children. This fear of children is pediaphobia.

Despite being an increasingly unique period of life distinct from childhood and adulthood, the period of youth or adolescence is seen as a transitory state that’s neither here nor there; it’s not child or adult. That lack of positioning in many adults’ eyes leads to distrust, which in turn is justified by fear. The fear of youth is ephebiphobia.

As adults seek to constantly secure and reinforce their positions as dominant authorities, they impose their will, perspectives, beliefs, ideas, cultures, structures, attitudes, and actions on all others who are not them. This enforces adultcentric perspectives, and reinforces adultism.

Aging beyond ready recognition as the mainline adult, older people or seniors become seen as less-than-adult. Justifying this perception with negative attitudes and actions, adults of a younger age enforce their perspectives over older people through adultism. They justify this with a conscious or unconscious fear of seniors, which is gerontophobia. In order to address any of these, we must name them accordingly. Now we can name all of them and see how they’re reliant on each other.

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Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can help challenge adultism in your community or organization, contact us.

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