Counteract age discrimination – promote participation and reduce social
The individual and societal lifestyle of the seniors is undergoing a change. Lead an active and
independent life – more and more people are willing and able to organize their life
accordingly. But in spite a changing image of life in old age there is still a large discrimination
among the seniors. We are still confronted with age discrimination in many areas of life: in
access to health care, mobility and accessibility, educational services, insurances and financial
services, opportunities for political participation and often on the jobs. Often age limits are
introduced which make it impossible for people from a certain age onwards to engage
themselves in honorary positions. Numerous examples of age discrimination show that there is
an urgent need for action.
I. The image of old age in transition
1. The democratic change is a challenge that our society has to cope with. Never before
have people grown so old as today. Being old is today no longer only a short period
after retirement, but is often a phase of life that extends over many decades. Many
factors have led to a significantly longer life expectancy. Thanks to medical progress,
better nutrition and less physical work people are living longer and in many cases also
remain more active and healthier in old age. Being old is today less defined by the
biological age, but increasingly by the social age. The scale for this are health and
physical fitness, social integration, participation in cultural and public events. This
development also changes our living together.
The images of old age change and different age generations and milieus develop. This
results in different experiences, lifestyles and cultural diversity. The 5th “Altenbericht”
of the Federal Government of Germany has indicated that the group of seniors is in
itself extremely heterogeneous. But in spite of all the differences there is a clear wish
for an entirely different understanding of old age as it has previously prevailed.
Neither innovation nor motivation or the interest in participating in social and cultural
life can cease so suddenly, just because a certain age limit has been reached. Because
old age is no longer primarily linked with the decrease of physical and mental abilities
and thus with deficits, but increasingly with potential strengths and energies as well as
2. The strong willingness of the seniors to engage themselves in civil society is a clear
indication that the current change calls for a new division of tasks and support in the
further course of their lives: This commitment is primarily rooted in the desire to
actively shape society, to share their experiences and knowledge with the young
people that would otherwise be lost., to lead an independent life and to participate in
the social and cultural activities. Many seniors want to spend the years gained more
active, more self-determined and with meaningful tasks. In the area of civil
engagement the proportion of seniors has increased above average in recent years.
Thus in the last five years the civic engagement of seniors has increased by six
percent. This has an impact on the lifestyle of the older generation, changing their
housing and living conditions considerably.
II. What is age discrimination?
1. Age discrimination refers to a social and economic disadvantage of individuals or
groups of people because of their age. It becomes difficult for those concerned to
participate in an appropriate manner in the working life and in society.
According to the Equal Treatment directives of the EU direct age discrimination
occurs if a person in a similar situation is treated less favourably than another because
of his or her age. An indirect discrimination occurs if certain persons have a
disadvantage in a particular way because of their age based on apparently neutral
directives, criteria or procedures.
“Any discriminations on grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic
features, language, religion or belief, political or other opinions, belonging to a
national minority, wealth, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation are prohibited.”
(Fundamental Rights Charter of the EU, article II-81, paragraph 1)
2. In Europe the General Equal Treatment Law came into force. Discriminations based on
age are no longer allowed within the area of application of this law. With the
discussions connected with the implementation of the European anti-discrimination
directives the issue of age discrimination has gained attention.
III. Age discrimination in various areas of life
1. Age discrimination still takes place in many areas of life. For example in the access
possibilities to health services, educational offers, insurances and financial services,
opportunities for political participation, recognition of resources – also financial – and
of the abilities of the seniors. Often the increasing number of seniors and their growing
percentage of the total population are discussed under negative aspects and are
considered a threat to the social security system and the job market. The German terms
“Renterschwemme”, “Alterslawine”, “Ueberalterung” reinforce this and suggest that
the seniors can be a threat to society. Furthermore, in the social debate proposals for
the improvement of the social security systems are put forward that are targeted at
rationing certain health care services for the seniors.
2. Also in getting jobs the older employees have disadvantages compared to the younger
generation in many professions, often they are also denied further education and
training on the job (In Germany 41 percent of the firms do not employ staff that is
older than 41 years). The employment rate of older employees (between 55 and 64
years) is 41,2 percent. In Scandinavian countries the employment rate of older
employees reaches 70 percent.
3. Germany: A further form of discrimination are age limits that are fixed in the statutes
of associations. Also ads can be regarded as discriminatory that are intended to
promote civic engagement and are mainly directed at persons under 65 years.
Even by taking over honorary posts age-discriminatory regulations are applied: “An
arbitrator should not be elected or re-elected if he or she has attained the age of 70.”
For jurors there is also an age limit. No person that has reached 70 may be appointed
juror. Also valuators should not be older than 68 years.
Especially for an aging society this is indeed the wrong signal. This reduces the
chances of seniors to take social responsibility.
4. “Economy for the seniors”, “Age as an economic force” or “Silver market” – these are
the new slogans, if one wants to demonstrate what economic chances lie in this
demographic development. – In strong contrast to this is the practice of many banks
and insurance companies to treat the seniors differently than the young people, they
sometimes even exclude them from certain offers.
Age discrimination can also be noted in connection with the purchase of goods and
services. For example age also plays a major role in the price for a life, health or travel
cancellation insurance. Age is also an important factor when getting loans or
mortgages from financial institutions. In recent years one has constantly become
aware of cases where financial institutions have allegedly denied granting loans based
on the age of the client.
IV. The financial situation often decides on participation and self-determination
1. Aging is primarily associated with the hope to stay healthy and to keep the previous
standard of living as much as possible. But for many people aging also means to be
affected by poverty in old age and not to be able to live independently in situations
when one needs help and support, to become incapacitated being dependent on care
and to live isolated and lonely in one’s home, because there is no money available to
take advantage of the cultural offers. Aging for many people means not to have any
privacy and house of their own and being housed against their will in residential or
nursing homes, if the alternatives cannot be financed and are not covered by health
2. Germany: However, the statistics indicate that the income situation of the seniors has
improved on average compared to previous decades. Nevertheless their income is
distributed in an unequal manner. Women on average still get much smaller pensions
than men. Based on the high unemployment rate and the fragile employment history
one has to assume that the social inequality among the seniors will further increase.
The 5th “Altenbericht” proves the lack of equality for women. The unequal distribution
of unpaid family and care work remains unconsidered. Women are making by far
more unpaid work for others than they themselves receive. When they are old, they
then often need professional care. But to finance it, there have to be financial
3. Germany: The pensions of those whose who are now in the middle of their life will in
the coming years be much more unequally distributed as already is the case today.
While some seniors will be able according to the image of the self-determined and
well informed consumer to buy the respective services and goods, many others will
be subject to the consequences of continued reductions of the benefit levels of the
statutory insurance schemes and to the inconsistent earning possibilities in many
situations of their lives. Poverty in old age will again increase. In many cities the
spending for the basic needs have increased more significantly than expected in
recent years. Especially affected by poverty are seniors with a migrant background.
One has to assume that the social inequality in old age will further increase.
- The possibilities to implement the desired lifestyle must be given for everyone
– regardless of age. This also includes social participation and inclusion.
- Age discrimination does not affect all seniors in the same way. Especially
women and seniors with a low income are exposed to the risk of discrimination
in old age. This development must be counteracted.
- The framework of conditions for the engagement of seniors must be improved
and barriers and age discrimination put aside. This also applies to seniors with
a migration background. Initiatives for “culturally sensitive old age politics”
need to be strengthened and expanded.
- The desire for an independent and self-determined lifestyle in old age plays a
central role. This results in the necessity for independent housing also for those
in the need of care or suffering from dementia.
- The employment situation for seniors has to be improved. This includes
developing a social model for a culture of a professional re-launch for seniors.
Businesses and firms are asked to create age-appropriate jobs, because in the
long term the share of senior employees in the labour market can only be
increased if it is accompanied by maintenance of health, lifelong learning and
equal participation in working life.
VI. We demand:
1. to develop strategies for an active anti-discrimination policy and to implement them
by involving all the protagonists of our society,
2. to pursue a strategy in the labour market that degrades the reservations in the
employment practices regarding seniors and that improves the possibilities and
employability for seniors,
3. to keep developing and promoting the importance of further education as an essential
tool of lifelong learning. The working conditions as well as the offers for further
education have to be in line with the capability and age of the senior employees,
4. to give priority to a greater engagement of seniors in the social and cultural life as an
aim of political measures and to help ensure that the participation possibilities for
seniors are extended and that the existing discrimination is reduced,
5. to promote the development and implementation of a culturally sensitive policy for the
6. to recognize, promote and expand the potential of senior citizens in the field of civic
engagement and to support and secure in the long term the necessary infrastructure,
7. to work towards ensuring that in the state and communities the European anti discrimination
directives are implemented and that the requirement of the Equal
Treatment Law are followed,
8. to check laws and regulations, if discriminatory age limits and regulations exist and if
that is the case to make or demand the appropriate amendments
(Antrag der Bündnis90/Die Grünen im Landtag NRW)