Ageism – Discrimination Against our Future Selves
Ageism is a type of discrimination that involves prejudice against people based on their age. The problem is we all will get old, so why would we discriminate against people who are what we will become?
Ashton Applewhite says in her TED talk Lets end ageism:
Aging is not a problem to fix or a disease to cure. Aging is living.
We are all guilty of ageism. Most of us grew up in a time where it was fashionable to say don’t trust anyone over 30.
It is ingrained into our culture and capitalistic society. Corporations make a lot of money on helping us delude ourselves that we are not aging. Whether it is the cosmetics industry helping us hide or prevent wrinkles to the pharmaceutical giving us treatments for low testosterone and other endocrinological changes that are normal to aging.
Every time someone discriminates based on age, they are discriminating against their own future self.
I have been wanting to write a series on ageism and as I do more research on the topic the problem starts with us.
Note: This post was originally published in February 2019 and was updated for the COVID-19 Pandemic in July of 2020.
What is Ageism?
The term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert N. Butler, M.D. In many ways, ageism is a form of discrimination that is relatively new.
Ageism is not just discriminating against the old but any age group. Come on, we have all heard the phrases like:
Millennials are all entitled and they do not know how to do real work.
That is ageism just like when I had a manager say he would not hire a candidate I wanted because he just did not have the energy he wanted. He perceived him as being too old and could not keep up.
These are all perceptions based on societal norms that are molded and framed by corporate messaging and our own views on aging. Corporate messaging has a lot to do with the spread of ageism.
We make excuses for forgetting things by saying it was a ‘senior moment’ or my favorite that I suffer from ‘CRS’ (Can’t Remember .. Stuff) disease. I think of it as self-deprecating – but what it does is make aging an excuse. Ashton Applewhite says in her TED talk that it was NOT a junior moment when she could not find her car keys as a teenager. Check out her TED talk below where she discusses our own behavior (4:30 into the video).
We are all ageist.
Why is Ageism a Problem Now?
Ageism is against the older population in the workplace is relatively new. We are now living a LOT longer than our parents. This longevity bonus is new and makes it much easier for ageism to exist.
Let me take you back to 1960 when the idea of retirement was not for most of the U.S. population. Then came Del Webb and Sun City. Sun City opened its door on January 1, 1960, with five model homes and a strip mall. There were thousands of cars lined up to get a look.
Here’s a thought for you…how many of those people who wanted to see Sun City do you think smoked cigarettes?
Probably a lot!
So, because of their smoking, they did not live many years after buying into that Sun City lifestyle. For this reason, that generation did not experience ageism as we do now!
Watch this great promotional video from 1960 about Sun City.
Today, we are living much longer and probably need to work longer because we failed to save enough or our retirement will be so long we will run out of money before we die. Since we are living and working longer incidents of ageism will increase.
It is our responsibility to change attitudes about aging.
It is All About Attitudes
The first place to start is with ourselves and our own attitudes. Like I said previously, I am guilty of promoting ageism in my own language, in my humor, and even how I view life.
In working on this series, I have decided to change that and start eliminating ageism language from my own vocabulary.
Then there are limiting beliefs around what I can and want to do in the 2nd half of life. I have previously written that I have gone through somewhat of metamorphosis in my wife’s and my move to Mexico. You can read about that in the post Becoming an Expat Has Dramatically Changed My Mindset.
I am including below Ashton Applewhite says in her TED talk video as I think it frames the problem well. The video is about 10 minutes long but I encourage you to watch the entire thing.
COVID-19 Pandemic and Ageism
The COVID-19 pandemic has put ageism front and center. About 80% of deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in those over the age of 65. Therefore, there has been a virulent resurgence of ageism in our society. Check out the Hastings Center article A Covid-19 Side Effect: Virulent Resurgence of Ageism. Then there are politicians like Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, who said:
He would rather die than see public health measures damage the US economy and that he believed “lots of grandparents” across the country would agree with him.
I should note that Dan Patrick at the time of writing this is 70 years old.
I wrote in the post What to Expect If You Are 55+ in the Post COVID-19 World that those who are over the age of 55 will be treated differently.
Will we be allowed to return to the workplace as those over 55 are the most vulnerable? If we do return to the workplace we will likely be the last allowed to return.
If we are unemployed, those over 55 will most likely be forced to take Lifeboat Jobs or retire early. According to the recent Washington Post article Retail workers in their 60s, 70s and 80s say they’re worried about their health — but need the money, almost 25% of all retail workers are over 55 years of age.
COVID-19 is changing the landscape as it relates to ageism. It is making it even more acceptable.
Part II – How to Identify Ageism
Check out the 2nd part of the series, where I discuss how to identify ageism. Ageism can be a very subtle form of discrimination and if we can not spot it, we cannot call it out for what it is.
What are you going to do to change your behavior and attitudes toward ageism?