What is ageism?

What is ageism?

Ageism is discrimination and/or prejudice against people based on their age.

What can ageism look like? 

  • Having a hiring preference for younger workers
  • Assuming older adults are bad at technology
  • Making jokes at the expense of older adults
  • Viewing older adults as a homogeneous population
  • Doctors placating older adult patients 

How does ageism impact older adults? 

The issue of ageism is persistent and real. The World Health Organization states older people who hold negative views about their own ageing do not recover as well from disability and live on average 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes about ageing. According to the Journal of Geriatric Education:

“Seniors are routinely subjected to negative stereotypes regarding their physical and cognitive abilities. The power and prevalence of cultural stereotypes of aging essentially results in a ‘double-whammy’ to seniors. First, they influence the way that seniors are treated by society. Second, cultural stereotypes affect how seniors see themselves. The ramifications here are important, for research suggests that stereotypes influence decisions to engage in cognitive and physical activity, the ability to recover from disease and, ultimately, the length and quality of life. Considering the demographic trends in North America, finding ways to effectively minimize and counteract the most negative stereotypes remains a pressing social concern”.

In fact, in a survey of people ages 60 and older, nearly 80 percent of respondents reported experiencing ageism–such as other people assuming they had memory or physical impairments due to their age. The 2001 survey also revealed that the most frequent type of ageism (reported by 58 percent of respondents) was being told a joke that pokes fun at older people. Thirty-one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. The study appeared in The Gerontologist (Vol. 41, No. 5).

What are resources to learn more about and combat ageism?

  • Changing the Narrative: Changing the Narrative is a strategic communications and campaign to increase understanding of ageism and to shift how Coloradans think about aging. https://changingthenarrativeco.org/
  • LeadingAge Ageism Resources: Articles, resources and materials related to combating ageism across the country for both organizations and individuals. https://www.leadingage.org/ageism-resources-0
  • World Health Organization Ageism Resources: Data, research, publications and information related to ageism around the globe. https://www.who.int/ageing/ageism/en/
  • Ashton Applewhite’s TEDTalk: It’s not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older. It’s ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves — and each other. Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread and mobilize against the last socially acceptable prejudice. https://www.ted.com/talks/ashton_applewhite_let_s_end_ageism
  • Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test: At this site, you’ll receive instructions and be able to take a brief computerized test that measures implicit bias based on age. Through awareness of our own implicit biases, we can create change. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html