Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
The first article in this series addressed the many myths and negative beliefs around aging. How is it then that these aging misconceptions have become so ingrained in society, without being back by fact? The answer is ageism.
What is ageism?
Ageism refers to assumptions that we make about because of their age. For example, older people are often stereotyped as being cranky. Older people are not the only group to be stereotyped because of their age. Younger people are also stereotyped. For example, younger people are sometimes perceived as more reckless. The difference is that we grow out of the stereotypes associated with youth and grow into the stereotypes associated with age.
Examples of Ageism
Ageism is found in many forms and expressed in many ways. One study examined the attitudes expressed on public Facebook groups that were on the topic of aging. Most focused on negative stereotypes. Older people were severely criticized, described as having a disability or cognitive impairment, and in need of protection. Perhaps more shocking, some group creators advocated banning older people from public activities (e.g., driving and even shopping).
Older people can sometimes struggle to find employment or keep their current jobs. As discussed in The Truth about Older Workers, older people are often perceived negatively by potential employers. If an older person secures a job, their compensation may be impacted. For instance, according to economist Teresa Ghilarducci, from age 45 to 55 wages decrease by 9%, and then decrease another 9% from age 55 to 65.
Why we should be talking about ageism?
A growing body of evidence suggests that our attitudes and beliefs impact how we experience health and well-being as we age. When we hold more negative beliefs, we are more likely to report health and disability challenges. In addition, when we hold negative aging attitudes we are less like to do things shown to improve health (e.g., exercise, etc.). Negative beliefs are likely the result of incomplete knowledge about aging that we often gain from the media. To live our best life possible, we must bust these myths, get the facts on aging, and learn strategies to develop a more positive attitude about aging.
What can we do develop more positive aging attitudes?
Knowledge is power. Clichéd but true! Most of us never received any education about aging during our school-age years. As a result, we learned everything we know about aging from the television and internet. Most media portrayals don’t capture the full breadth or beauty of the aging experience. While loss is a part of aging, focusing on the loss blinds us to all the amazing things we gain as we age.
Cultivating a Healthy Life Series:
- Cultivating a Healthy Life
- 5 Myths About Aging
- We Are What We Think
- The Science of Aging
- 5 Ways to Age Gracefully
- Moving Forward Together
References & Additional Readings:
- Ageism in America
- Age Discrimination and Hiring of Older Workers
- Forced Out, Older Workers Are Fighting Back
- Levy, B. P.H. Chung, T. Bedford, K. Navrazhina. 2014. Facebook as a Site for Negative Age Stereotypes. The Gerontologist 54(2):172-176.
- Levy, S.R. 2016. Toward Reducing Ageism: PEACE (Postive Education about Aging and Contact Experiences) Model. The Gerontologist 00(00):1-7.
- Pachana, N.A., J. Liddle, N.M. Peel, E. Beattie, C. Juang, and B.G. Knight. 2015. “Can we do better? Researchers' experiences with ethical review boards on projects with later life as a focus.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 43(3):701-707.
- Sargent-Cox, K. 2017. “Ageism: we are our own worst enemy.” International Psychogeriatrics 29(1): 1-8.
- 55, Unemployed and Faking Normal: One Woman’s Story of Barely Scraping By
- Miche, M., Brothers, A., Diehl, M., & Wahl, H. W. (2015). The role of subjective aging within the changing ecologies of aging: Perspectives for research and practice. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 35(1), 211-245.