# Is it ok to ask how old a fellow employee is?

I live in Mexico, but my manager is in the USA. He is having a birthday soon. I will wish him a happy birthday but I was wondering if it is considered rude or unpolite to ask how old he will be?
Also could this be applied with other co-workers? Is it ok to talk with other people about their age?

• Few months ago it was my 33rd birthday, and a few colleagues brought me a cake saying "Happy 31st". I didn't correct them (just saying ;) – yannis Oct 19 '12 at 15:01
• I think that if your relationship with your boss were close enough to ask him his age, you wouldn't need to ask here: you would know whether it was OK. – itsbruce Oct 19 '12 at 15:21
• I think this can be culture-dependent. For example, In India, there is no problem if you ask someone their age (except for women you don't know very well). Also, you can ask strangers about their parents, kids, siblings, their job, how much money they make, what rent they pay, etc etc. (Yes, I said Strangers ! Like some one you met on a bus !) . Its really weird, but its Indians ! – Chani Oct 19 '12 at 20:09
• I would assert not merely that this can be culture-dependent, but that it is necessarily culture-dependent; that is, the answer to a question like this is always going to depend on the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. With regard to the USA, generally it will depend on your closeness to the person, whether they are male or female, what their approximate age group is (young people don't care, really really old people don't care either), and what part of the country they are from (are they socially liberal or conservative?). :) – stoicfury Oct 19 '12 at 23:34
• I have a simple solution - I say '21 again eh?" with a wink and/orsmile. usually they tell me something like "I wish! More like x" – Preet Sangha Oct 20 '12 at 7:44

Asking someone's age when it's not relevant to the topic at hand (TV programs, well-known events, etc.) may be considered impolite. It depends a lot on the company culture & that individual.

I worked at one company where decorations were not allowed for milestone birthdays (40, 50, etc.) because the company was afraid of age discrimination lawsuits - groups had traditions of putting up black balloons, streamers, etc. It was meant to be in good humor, and I never saw anyone get offended, but HR departments get nervous.

• In the U.S. it is NOT a good thing to ask an employee his or her age. Take it from a startup software developer who just turned 60. Nothing good can come of it. – Jim In Texas Oct 20 '12 at 3:29
• startup software developer who just turned 60 You give hope to those of us who are coming into our 30's thinking we are getting too old for the startup game! – maple_shaft Oct 22 '12 at 12:23
• @maple_shaft: Take heart. Lots of CS degrees, not many programmers. We are about to the point where we would hire anyone who can prove they have completed 50 Euler problems (projecteuler.net) – kevin cline Oct 25 '12 at 15:34
• @kevincline My standards are considerably lower than yours by far and I still have trouble finding people. I can't really blame students these days that avoid CS, it is really hard, and most of the jobs are abusive. If you are smart, determined and have thick skin for abuse and underapprciation then it is a pretty good way to make a living though. – maple_shaft Oct 25 '12 at 15:46
• There's no benefit to it, and it can be seen as discriminatory during a job interview. I've interviewed at engineering firms with very unprofessional hiring managers who asked age around the same time as salary expectations. While one may be skeptical of a 25 year old claiming to be a "senior manager", age is not necessarily an indicator of skill: just personal bias. – Cloud May 30 '16 at 21:38

In general it is better to avoid talking about someone's age unless they bring it up. It's not as bad as talking about race, religion or politics, but some people are uncomfortable discussing it. You should never ask as a part of any formal process, like an interview - most countries have rules against age discrimination, and asking can give the appearance of discrimination.

In general conversation, like talking about a birthday, I would always say something like "Can I ask how old you are?", given them a chance not to answer if they don't want to. But even then I would only do it with someone I knew relatively well. With a boss from another country, I wouldn't go there.

Is it ok to talk with other people about their age?

If they are female DO NOT ASK!

Nothing good can come out of this, male or female.

What is it that makes you so curious about your co-workers age? Is this something that really matters in any way? Will it benefit your tasks with them in any way?

There are more risks than benefits here.

Stick to focusing on the work.

• @Mechaflash Nothing in this answer offends me, if it did I'd flag it as offensive, not discuss it. – yannis Oct 19 '12 at 17:23
• @YannisRizos when a response such as calling someone/something sexist, racist, egotistical, etc, it's because the person took offense to it. Now if you phrased it as "some may think that your statement is sexist" means that you're being conscious of what was said/done. Note: This entire post deals with political correctness, so responses are applicable. – Mechaflash Oct 19 '12 at 17:25
• @Mechaflash Good point. I wasn't calling out Greg, it was a question, but most people would probably read it as calling out, so I've deleted my comment. – yannis Oct 19 '12 at 17:26
• To me, it came off as rhetorical. Languages are dumb. We should all go back to "booga booga", whistling and clapping. – Mechaflash Oct 19 '12 at 17:38
• This is a old rule of etiquette in the US..forgotten by many... – Greg McNulty Oct 22 '12 at 1:19

Ask yourself, "How does knowing my coworker's age help me better-perform my job?"

1. Maybe you need to send people on errands to other business that require the age of 21 for entry.
2. Maybe the job involves forming camaraderie with a client/customer, which would work best with a co-worker of a similar age to the client.

Even in case #2, it is best to ask someone "are you in your 20's" or early 30's or whatever.

Because of age-discrimination, this topic is essentially never appropriate for the workplace, unless the answer directly facilitates business.

Despite spending so much of your day with your co-workers, the relationship is rooted in the profession/job, and interactions should principally emerge from that basis. If you later become buddies or friends with your coworker(s) then all that passes between you is a prerogative of that development.

• For #2, or other cases when you just need a ballpark, you probably should be able to get close enough by just from appearance. Also there might be other indirect ways to get that level of information without asking. eg My employer has staff maintain internal resume's on the intranet; and work history or when they got their degree will often let you guess to within a few years. – Dan Neely Oct 20 '12 at 20:44

When in doubt, err on the side of not asking. Age is a touchy subject, but particularly in the US. As others on the thread have pointed out, it depends a lot on your relationship with the person in question.

It is definitely not okay to ask someone's age in an interview situation - in fact, it's illegal.

Generally, I feel like a lot of it also has to do with how the question is asked. Some people ask about age as a friendly way of getting to know you and making a connection. But many people unfortunately also use age as a proxy for experience, title, and salary rate. This information can be used negatively, which is why it's touchy.

Hope that helps!

• How is this answer different than the ones that already existed when you posted this? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 22 '12 at 13:29
• Chad, I believe I'm the only one who's mentioned the legal aspects with respect to the US. – bitops Oct 23 '12 at 2:10

In some countries it may be ok to ask, but the United States has become a haven of the Politically Correct, and in reality the emotionally fragile it seems. I honestly don't care if people ask me how old I am, I either tell them it's none of their business or I tell them, especially if they are cute ;)

That being said, don't ask, it is more for common courtesy. Just say happy birthday, and give a card, depending on their outlook. If they are humorous, go for a funny card, if they are strict, a standard happy birthday card will be fine.

In reality though, if you want to do something for their birthday, ask them for you to treat them to a lunch. It will probably be good to know that the people under them appreciate them.

This is just me talking though, just be wary about asking for anyone's age. It's common courtesy in the US not to ask a woman's age, and in reality it should be the same for your boss.

I think you could do it like this: State you own age during some conversation. If people don't feel comfortable about it, they will just let it be there, if they feel comfortable they will tell you their age. In a formal setting (people who you don't work with every day), i would avoid the topic completely.

In Germany i could imagine asking male colleagues directly in a non-formal setting. In the right context i could also imagine that it is ok to ask female colleagues - e.g. a situation come to my mind where I was amazed that some female colleague worked with some software, because I thought she was too young for it, and she was not embarrassed but was amused and explained me that she was very young when she used it.

In Japan, I would ask during lunch, although usually colleagues (male and female) usually introduce themselves with their age, and my experience if that Chinese are also not embarrassed to talk about it.

It can be; it depends entirely on your relationship to them.

If you want to know their age the best way is to ask someone who works closely with them (i.e. in the same office / who has a good relationship with them). Though that sounds like going behind their back few people are offended by being asked someone else's age (especially if you say you want to know because you're aware they have a birthday coming up and want to know so you don't get the wrong card), and most people will filter that information, only passing on that you asked if they (in their closer relationship to the person) feel it appropriate to do so.

Most of the Mexican (and Spanish) people I know would just ask though, then say "I know that may be rude but I'm Mexican/Spanish" so would be let off regardless.

## protected by IDrinkandIKnowThingsOct 22 '12 at 13:25

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