Should All Ages Be Equal?

Sunday, March 3, 2024
First Aired: 
Sunday, November 28, 2021

What Is It

Age determines a lot about your position in society—what activities you can do, what benefits you can access, and what rights and responsibilities you have. While it seems appropriate to treat people at different stages of life differently, we also consider certain kinds of unequal treatment unjust. So when should we treat people of different ages differently? And when does it become ageism or age discrimination? When does a disadvantage for an age group turn into injustice against a generation? Josh and Ray act their age with Juliana Bidadanure from Stanford University, author of Justice Across Ages: Treating Young and Old as Equals.

Listening Notes

Should society treat everyone the same way? Is it possible to prevent age discrimination while still taking age into account? While Josh believes that restrictions for purchasing alcohol and child labor laws are important, he’s a little less sure about the importance of age for voting restrictions and equal pay. In contrast, Ray thinks the rules we have now may be arbitrary but apply equally to everyone. 


The hosts welcome Juliana Bidananure, Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Stanford University, to the show. Her research is driven by the question of why some inequalities between age groups are acceptable, while others are not. Ray asks why the existing system needs to be changed at all, to which Juliana responds that we should scrutinize our current intuitions and differential treatments more carefully in order to show equal concern for all stages of life. Josh brings up the Brexit vote and the possibility of lowering the voting age, which prompts Juliana to discuss the importance of having young adults in parliaments. She thinks that political representatives should look like the citizens they represent, and younger age groups in particular need a larger space to voice their concerns.


In the last segment of the show, Josh, Ray, and Juliana discuss the implications of maximum voting ages and mandatory retirement ages. Juliana worries about inequalities that increase generational inequality, and she explains why she would create a basic income for all ages if she had the power to create a society that is fair for all generations. Since future generations will have new challenges to overcome, Juliana believes we should want them to be better off and not suffer from the same difficulties that previous generations had. 


  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 3:47) → Holly J. McDede investigates why some people are campaigning to lower the voting age.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:55) → Ian Shoales reminisces about coming of age and considers how the Internet combats ageism.



Josh Landy  
Is age discrimination always wrong?
Ray Briggs  
Would we really want to let a 13 year old drive?
Josh Landy  

Comments (14)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, October 23, 2021 -- 3:14 PM

The graphic is interesting..

The graphic is interesting...a parallel to that used for representation of evolution itself. However, any notion of equality within the ages of man fails to establish a point. If, indeed, there was one to begin with. Which I doubt. See, ' child is father to the man' is merely quaint metaphor. At best. Worn-out aphorism, at best. 'Equal' is slippery. Equal, compared with what/whom? You just can't play it this way. Children are born, grow,live, grow old and die. This does not happen in reverse. Nor, should it.
What is really being asked here? Is this just an allegory? It is not about savant or prodigy, I think: exception is ANOTHER rule....though we do not dream it that way. As a practical matter, equal is that which has been earned. Not inherited. Or bestowed...

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, October 24, 2021 -- 1:54 PM

Juliana's book is too

Juliana's book is too expensive for me (over a hundred dollars – cheaper on Kobo – but still… ouch.) Maybe PT could finagle a discount for PT subscribers? (Just saying.) I did buy Amia Srinivasan's book only to have the show canceled. Here is the free abstract on Juliana's book. She has several other papers out as well. I can post those public abstracts if anyone can't find them.

Justice Across Ages: Treating Young and Old as Equals

Juliana Uhuru Bidadanure
Abstract contained in quotes ==> “Age structures our lives... including families, workplaces, and schools.”.

“Age structures our lives and societies. It shapes social institutions, roles, and relationships, as well as how we assign obligations and entitlements within them. Each life-stage also brings its characteristic opportunities and vulnerabilities, which spawn multidimensional inequalities between young and old. How should we respond to these age-related inequalities? Are they unfair in the same way gender or racial inequalities are? Or is there something distinctive about age that mitigates ethical concern?

Justice Across Ages addresses these and related questions, offering an ambitious theory of justice between age groups. Written at the intersection of philosophy and public policy, the book sets forth ethical principles to guide a fair distribution of goods like jobs, healthcare, income, and political power among persons at different stages of their life. At a time where young people are starkly underrepresented in legislatures and subject to disproportionally high unemployment rates, the book moves from foundational theory to the specific policy reforms needed today.

If we are ever to live in a society where people are treated as equals, the book argues, we must pay vigilant attention to how age membership can alter our social standing. We should regard with suspicion commonplace forms of age-based social hierarchy, such as the political marginalization of teenagers and young adults, the infantilization of young adults and older citizens, and the spatial segregation of elderly persons. This position carries important implications for how we should think about the political and moral value of equality, design our social and political institutions, and conduct ourselves in a range of contexts including families, workplaces, and schools..”

The key idea is inter and intragenerational justice and equality, and age rights. That society is not up to science is probably always going to be true. Bidadanure has written on Universal Basic Income which might also play into the discussion. Hopefully, this can start some conversation.

I can tell you; this book seems centered on the younger generations. The older workers - not infantilized but indentured, without moral or economic luck, need liberation and distributive justice as well. I have an Amazon delivery person who is 20 years older than me, and I am not young.

I'm also interested in the science of human development. Children and the elderly need care and special rights. Juliana, I'm sure, comprehends all this.

Hit the link below for separate abstracts for each chapter from the table of contents.

Table of Contents

Part One
1. Equality over Time
2. Lifespan Prudence
3. Relational Equality Between Age Groups
4. Treating Young and Old as Equals
Part Two
5. Age, Jobs, and Inequalities
6. Basic Income versus Basic Capital: A Temporal Perspective
7. Youth-ing Politics: A Defence of Youth Quotas in Parliaments

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 31, 2021 -- 5:42 AM

Equality, in many respects

Equality, in many respects and under many circumstances, is an experiential passage. We gain it through our own efforts. Therefore, it does not attach to a particular age at a given time. Savants and prodigies are exceptional people whose powers of thought and reason outstrip age: they know;can intuit and infer, far more than 'normal' people. These talents appear to be evolving in humans: it appears we have greater numbers of children excelling in school than were obvious fifty or more years ago. Can it be that such individuals are indicators of an exponential aspect of evolution? I am pretty sure others are at least toying with such a notion.
Whatever the case, and, however things proceed, the idea of equality seems misplaced. To me. It just does not seem to square with emergent facts. And those are still in their infancy, so to speak.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, November 14, 2021 -- 10:18 PM

Equality is a social contract

Equality is a social contract we make, and I'm not sure to whom or with whom. I'm pretty sure it is made at birth and paid with your life on your death bed. It surely isn't earned. Equality is a right.

There are cohorts of young people today who are questioning the decisions of our generation (the boomers) while sticking their noses on their phones. There has never been a better time to be just and equal. The soaring price of housing and childcare make past injustice real today. It is about time to consider age inequality.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, January 6, 2022 -- 5:51 AM

I thought more on the first

I thought more on the first sentence of the What is it? Intro to this post, and my remarks of October 31, 2021. I also re-read Mr. Smith's comments. My distillation boils down to the following: no, all ages are not equal, nor should they be. Unlike other modes of equality, race;color; national origin; sex; disability, equality, as it obtains for age, is earned, not summarily bestowed. Younger people, through observation, opportunity,experience and education, earn equal respect and treatment. If this seems radical or facially unfair to anyone, reading these remarks, I would encourage those kind souls to think carefully on their assessment.

An example:
No one can seek election to the office of President of the United States before reaching thirty-five years of age. If this seems arbitrary or cavalier in some way, it is, nonetheless, a long-standing specification of the job description. Is it excessive, outdated or unfair? Maybe so. But until successfully challenged and overturned, it will hold the force and effect of law. Crybabies need not apply.
There are dozens of other examples. This one seems sufficient.

Are children or the very old to be treated any-which-way-we-want? Of course not. We have laws proscribing such behaviors. Naysayers only learn through experience, education, observation and opportunity.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, February 7, 2022 -- 6:07 PM

The blog post on age and

The blog post on age and ageism is partially addressed here and there. It is complicated. Why? Well, because as we grow older---gain knowledge and experience---our personal sense of worth accrues. There is, however, a tragic downside. Competition. Only the tenacious and determined among the older cohort are able to withstand, to overcome the determination to shut them out.
This is generational succession. I know, personally, fewer than five people, my age or older who are intellectually successful.. Fewer than that who are economically comfortable, intellect notwithstanding. Generational succession is how things are. People get old and die. Anything before that is gravy.. Or hog slop. The few friends I admire most never look back. This, more than anything, is why they go on. PSDP: providence smiles on determination and purpose. I have shared that platitude with my fifty-something ex-Navy, PTSD step son. Don't know how that will be work out.

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Daniel's picture


Sunday, January 7, 2024 -- 7:22 AM

The most salient forms of

The most salient forms of ageism occur in supply-side models of market economies which today digitally excommunicate participants in non-marketable means of communication, such as proximate speech which does not require a subscription. This affects the older generations, who were not conditioned to accept the private ownership of speech possibilities. But something similar occurs with respect to younger generations whose relationship to printed matter requires a third technocratic party which intervenes between the sender and the recipient. As this third party belongs to the private sector and exists for the sole purpose of profit-generation, communication over long distances becomes understood without reflection as a special privilege for those who can afford it, rather than as facilitated by the public utility of a constitutionally guaranteed postal service which has been savagely attacked in the U.S. on a bi-partisan basis during the last two decades.

It seems certain that some things should be age-divisible. Pensions for retirement and marriage restrictions to age of consent seem reasonable. Means of communication however should not be one of them. Private ownership of such means ought therefore to be prohibited in preference for their socialization, which would not only furnish use-liberty for those currently excluded, but also eliminate the perverse incentive on the supply-side for production of algorithms which generate the bottomless echo chambers of the most destructive and misleading kind.

Disagreement, anyone?

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robertpurser's picture


Friday, January 26, 2024 -- 8:09 AM

super mario bros wonder

super mario bros wonder builds from the storied history of 2D Mario platformers, but it also takes chances and adopts unique gameplay strategies that set the game apart from all of its predecessors.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 29, 2024 -- 9:17 AM

Someone said age is a number.

Someone said age is a number. Sure. We are born, live, do and die. However, prodigy is different. Genius, unusual. There seem to be more children now who are genius or prodigy. This was not seen much when I was a child. In my primitive world, children were seen, not heard. Genius or prodigy was discouraged. Outlook changes slowly.. Montessori encouraged development. The notion of age equality is behind the curve---always, and in MANY ways, will be. Still, we must take development into account. I don't care for a notion of kids with AK47s. Makes no sense. Could say more. Need not.

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Daniel's picture


Monday, February 12, 2024 -- 4:54 PM

Two individuals born at

Two individuals born at different times in closely proximate locations obtain a one to two ratio of duration-distinction where one is exactly twice the age of the other. Doubling the duration of each does not change the ratio, while the difference in the duration of each increases. If however the duration of the pair together is doubled, the difference in the duration of each becomes smaller in relation to the other until at some point they are indistinguishable without an infinitesimal calculus. Does this apply to gerontocracies where age becomes a factor in representative selection? Must such a calculus be applied where two candidates for some important office are so close together in age that the difference between them can not be perceived by the majority of younger citizens without the aid of special instruments?

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miakso's picture


Tuesday, February 20, 2024 -- 1:10 AM

The disparity between the two

The disparity between the two durations becomes increasingly smaller as the pair's duration is doubled
amanda the adventurer

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Daniel's picture


Thursday, February 22, 2024 -- 3:04 PM

Correct. If this process

Correct. If this process could continue indefinitely, could the older one be in the process of becoming younger than the younger one, without ever being able to actually be younger in fact? And conversely, given a practically infinite amount of time, could one truthfully claim that the younger is becoming older than the older one, even if being older in fact is not possible according to the known laws of physics? But what if in addition to an initial difference in age one adds a difference in location which increases as the disparity between their durations decreases? Why couldn't the proportional adjustments in disparity between the two durations in relation to the total measure each has been in existence be at some point reversible at a sufficient distance in space, with the result that the original one to two ratio is restored in exchanged form? The philosopher who came up with something like this question was nicknamed "Big Chest" or "Chester" in his native language and was likely composing a birthday card for a relative. But is there a practical valence to your interest in the subject? Are you seeking a way to reverse the aging process?

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024 -- 12:10 AM

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Immerse yourself in the heart-pounding action of Tomb of the Mask, where every step could be your last in this race against time.

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Thursday, June 6, 2024 -- 1:09 AM

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