While using age as a factor in hiring and firing decisions is illegal in the United States, the practice is still prevalent in Europe, according to The Wyatt Company, a consulting and actuary firm in Wellesley, Mass.

"Misconceptions about the health and productivity of people over a certain age affect employment practices throughout the European market," says John Swabey, a Brussels-based consultant. "Especially hard hit are recently fired employees over 40. Too often this group is excluded from all but temporary work and jobs with short, fixed-term contracts."

Age discrimination is found in hiring practices, eligibility for benefits, and termination of employment.

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