Aging Today: Why is Age Discrimination Hard to Prove?

This piece originally aired during WFSU’s Aging Today segment.

Age discrimination is illegal, but unfortunately, it’s pervasive and hard to prove. More than 1 in 5 claims of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are based on age, yet just one percent result in a ruling of age discrimination.

This low success rate is largely the result of Supreme Court cases that have undermined the 1967 Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the law that prohibits discrimination against workers 40 and older.

In the most important case in recent years, the justices ruled that a claimant must show that age was the primary reason for the employer’s actions. This burden of proof is higher than for other kinds of discrimination, like race or sex.

The ruling makes it easy for employers to discriminate by age as long as they can offer some other explanation, however, it has galvanized organizations advocating for older adults, so we can expect to see continued developments on the age discrimination front.

WFSU-FM Aging Today

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy – with support from the Claude Pepper Center, the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, and Osher Lifelong Learning at FSU – sponsors weekly “Aging Today” segments on 88.9, WFSU-FM NPR. Airing each Tuesday at 3:04pm, the one-minute segments highlight critical aging-related trends, issues, and policies, with an emphasis on social science research. 

Listen to archives of Aging Today segments at

The featured image is from

Anne Barrett is Director of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and a Professor of Sociology. Her research areas include gender and aging, subjective aging, ageism, and cultural constructions of later life.

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