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16% of Europeans report experiencing discrimination - 10/11/2009

Metalworker in a wheelchair © EC

Ageism is growing problem – or so most Europeans think.

The recession has increased European perceptions that age can be a disadvantage on the job market, according to the latest EU survey on discrimination.

Some 58% of Europeans now see age discrimination as a widespread problem in their country, compared with 42% a year ago. An even larger share – 64% – think European workers will face more bias of this kind in the wake of the economic downturn.

However, the survey did not attempt to determine whether the targets of the perceived discrimination were seen as too young or too old. It suggests the turnaround in public opinion reflects high jobless rates among the young but also notes that people over 40 were more likely to complain about age discrimination.

The survey was conducted over two weeks in May and June. Nearly 27 000 people were polled in 27 EU countries and 3 aspiring new members – Croatia, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and Turkey. Six forms of discrimination were considered: ethnic, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion.

The same shift in public opinion was observed for discrimination against people with disabilities. In a similar survey last year, the majority of respondents considered this form of discrimination rare. Now most view the problem as widespread – and likely to get worse with jobless rates still rising.

And yet the overall share of people who reported personally experiencing some kind of unfair treatment in the past year – regardless of the grounds – was stable at 16%.

That was also true when the discrimination was grouped by type. For example, the actual experience of age and gender discrimination did not increase.

Discrimination against ethnic groups is still seen as the biggest problem, with 61% citing it as common in their country, about the same as last year. But it is now closely followed by age (58%).

The results of the survey are expected to be discussed at a European summit on equality in Stockholm next week.

The EU began tracking public opinion on discrimination in 2006 as part of a campaign to make people more aware of their rights. The latest survey found that only one in three Europeans know their rights in this area.

More on tackling discrimination in the EU

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