#61 Be Aware and Take Action
Ashton Applegate, the author of This Chair Rocks, explains the problem well in her Ted Talk, Let’s End Ageism. Take a look.
In 1968, Dr. Robert Butler introduced ageism as discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping based on age. It occurs in the workplace, health care industry, and day-to-day life.
Stereotypes are the often unfair and untrue beliefs that many have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.
Prejudice is an unfair dislike of an individual or group because of specific characteristics.
Discrimination is the unfair treatment of people and groups based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
Wikipedia explains the three intertwined concepts this way
stereotypes reflect expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different, prejudice is the emotional response, and discrimination refers to actions.
They play a central role in a person’s ability to age well. So, awareness of ageism is crucial, and dealing with it is another issue.
While there are many ways to define ageism, let’s look at it through the lens provided by the Refined By Age website, which identifies four categories: personal, institutional, intended, and unintended.
Personal Ageism refers to the ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and practices biased against persons or groups based on their older age.
Lyrics from the song in the movie South Pacific, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, tell the story.
Institutional Ageism refers to the missions, rules, and practices that discriminate against individuals and or groups because of their older age.
Joseph F. Coughlin, the author of The Longevity Economy and director of AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes that ageism began in healthcare when the popular view was that a human being had only so much life force. The thinking alleged that when a person dies, that life force depletes. Even as the medical field progressed, ageism was firmly planted and thriving within its practice.
Ageism is also in the workplace. As America turned from an agricultural to an industrial society, people looked at employment as a zero-sum equation. A younger person couldn’t enter the work force, if an older person stayed. This belief wasn’t and still isn’t true.
Intentional Ageism refers to the ideas, attitudes, rules, or practices carried out with the knowledge that they are biased against persons or groups based on their older age and includes taking advantage of them. There are numerous examples.
Scammers scheme to cultivate potential victims using the phone, mail, computers, and face-to-face meetings. Once they have their victims’ attention, they cheat them out of hundreds – even thousands – of dollars.
A second example is selling products to slow down the effects of aging. The global market for anti-aging products was around $58 billion (U.S.) in 2020, and the market is estimated to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of seven percent between 2021 and 2026. That means millions of people spend money to solve a “problem” that is part of being human: getting older.
A third example is the message media gives. An AARP article Ageism Is Alive and Well in Advertising says, “ads that show contempt for older people are still far too common,” such as:
That same year, E-Trade's ad “This Is Getting Old” enraged many people with its depictions of buffoonish older adults forced to work jobs they did not want and weren’t competent to do because they hadn't bothered to save for retirement. The ad campaign mocked retirees struggling financially and alienated those who control the largest share of wealth.
Similarly, a HealthNews Article notes
If you watch TV, you're likely to hear ageist language, see worn-out stereotypes and wonder why older characters lead such one-dimensional lives - if older adults exist, much less speak, on your favorite shows. According to a University of Southern California study of the 72 highest-ranked TV series among U.S. viewers, the media under-represents seniors on screen, behind the camera, and as TV writers and producers.
And the article, The Role of the Media in Promoting Ageism, says
The image of aging depicted in the media has generally been negative stereotyping, a portrayal that seems to be more damaging than any other social group. In American culture, the aged are depicted as older people who are tolerated and respected to the extent they can act like younger people rather than as experienced "elders."
Unintentional Ageism refers to the ideas, attitudes, rules, or practices carried out without a person’s awareness that they are biased against older people or groups.
The writer, Anais Nin, explained the concept well when she said
Adults filter life through a looking-glass they've held since childhood: a filter of implicit bias, so deeply embedded in their culture they often don’t notice it’s there. But the language they use to refer to older people in casual conversations tells the story. For example:
Telling somebody they’re “too old” to participate in an activity or event, or expressing surprise that they “still” skydive, run marathons, drive, etc.
Telling a woman she’s “too old” to wear certain styles or outfits.
Getting older will undoubtedly result in physiological and social changes; but as research published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) indicates, many aging stereotypes are exaggerated.
What Can I Do?
As people age, two activities seem crucial regarding ageism: awareness and action.
Researchers from the University of Alberta (Canada) concluded, “what we need to do is start looking at the actual impact of ageism.”
The American Psychological Association offers tips for overcoming ageism. Take a look.
The Everyday Health website says that people can overcome ageism with effort as they get older. Their suggestions are as follows.
1. Speak up. At family gatherings with people of all ages, you might sit on the sidelines and watch. Instead choose to participate.
2. Engage in the world. People who stay active — mentally and physically — can overcome ageism more easily. Follow the news. Live in the present, and look to the future. Show your children and grandchildren that you’re aware of what’s going on. Use email and social media if you feel comfortable.
3. Be positive. Attitude has a lot to do with how people can overcome ageism. Relish the experience and wisdom that age brings and put it to good use.
4. Be as independent as you can. There’s a concept called learned helplessness. If you assume you’re unable to do certain things because you’re a certain age, you won’t be able to do them. You won’t lose those abilities if you continue to do for yourself what you can, such as shopping, banking, and eating out.
5. Surround yourself with young people. Taking a class at the gym or the community college with younger people will help fight ageism. Energy comes from being with youthful people who motivate and challenge you.
6. Volunteer. Joining in activities and volunteering for an agency - like a pet rescue or community group - can keep you interested in life.
7. Exercise. Either by going to a class or attending one online.
My attempts to overcome ageism and to age well are to speak up by writing this newsletter, be as independent as possible, surround myself with younger people (that’s easy everyone is younger than me), and exercise.
What are your secrets for aging well?
Ageism is a fact of life, but awareness and proactive measures help manage it