Ageism is words or actions that judge someone based on their age, old or young. Ageist behaviors can be purposeful or accidental with personal and societal consequences.
While most people think ageism only involves older adults, anyone can be ageist or be affected by ageism. First used by Dr. Robert Butler in 1969, ageism is more harmful than many think, and can also worsen other forms of discrimination like sexism and racism.
Some examples of ageism include:
- Using “other-ing” terms that refer to other ages with negative language like “kids these days” and “Silver Tsunami”. Applying labels like “dear” or “honey” instead of preferred names that talk down to people you don’t know.
- Blaming generations for problems based on age-related stereotypes. For example, “older adults hog health resources because they’re too weak to care for themselves” and “young people are poorer because they’re lazy”.
- Creating limitations on yourself because of perceived age. Phrases like “I’m having a senior moment”, or “I can’t do [x] because I’m not old enough” can lead to lower self-esteem and ultimately guilt, isolation, anxiety, and depression.
- Media that stokes fears of aging or criticize people based on their age such as ads for beauty products to hide wrinkles and gray hair and negative news about independent thinking “woke” teenagers.
Unfortunately, ageism has become somewhat normalized in our culture, and many are often ageist without meaning it. Individuals that could contribute value to their communities and workplaces are deterred by ageism. For example, older adults who perceive themselves as frail (even if they aren’t) may spend less time out of the house for fear of falling or being a burden to others. Younger people may see their own contributions and suggestions as less valuable because of their lack of “maturity”.
Ageism can even have health and economic consequences. Research has shown that negative self-perceptions based on aging can lead to poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability in older age, earlier death, and substantial societal economic costs. Moreover, industries may lose out on creative and innovative solutions from employees of all ages. Ultimately, ageism has negative effects on the person experiencing ageism and the community as a whole.
So what can YOU do to stop ageism?
💬 Use inclusive language: Avoid talking about aging as a negative trait or confusing youth for inexperience or immaturity. Aging can be something to celebrate.
📣 Take action!: Take a look at your interactions and environment and identify ageism around you. Educate people in your circles about ageism through casual conversations and sharing examples. If you see ageism taking place at home or in your community, call it out.
🌎 Embrace people, not stereotypes: Remember that the stereotypes that fuel ageism are just that—stereotypes. Every individual at any age is unique, and there are many factors outside of personal decisions that affect aging. Not all older adults are frail and weak; neither are all younger people immature and spoiled. Avoid grouping people and their abilities or preferences based on age.
🤗 Invest in an intergenerational relationship: Give people of all ages opportunities to support and enrich your community, whether through activities like volunteering, informal caregiving, or through political action. This can decrease social isolation and promote cross-generational conversation, allowing both older and younger individuals to share their skills with and better understand one another.
It won’t be easy changing the culture of ageism, but we hope that these tips are a helpful start.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls