What is Ageism and Why It’s Not Okay
Stereotypes based on any and every human characteristic or trait pervade our society. Stereotyping is a form of categorisation. Living beings learn habits as a way to survive and categorising helps us to make sense of the world around us. Unfortunately, as our understanding of the world continues to evolve, we have come to see that stereotyping someone based on their characteristics, whether that’s age, race, gender or abilities, can be unfair and outright inaccurate.
Ageism is discrimination and stereotyping of someone based on their age. It involves making assumptions, holding biases, or treating people unfairly due to their age. Ageism can target anyone at any age, however, younger individuals and seniors are at high risk of being discriminated against based on their age.
Let’s explore the impact of ageism on society, its manifestations in various settings, and the negative effects it can have on the mental and physical well-being of older and younger adults.
What is ageism?
Ageism is a form of discrimination or prejudice based on a person’s age, and is typically directed towards people at the extremes of age, whether they are older or younger. The term was coined by gerontologist (a scientist that studies ageing processes) Robert N. Butler in 1969 to describe discrimination against the elderly population. Over the years it has evolved to include discrimination of all ages, whether it’s children, teenagers, adults or senior citizens.
Societal influences, cultural norms, media portrayals and personal experience all contribute to the development of stereotypes and our perception of people depending on their ages, races, sexes, and abilities. However, it’s important to catch ourselves and recognise that stereotyping is often incorrect and can lead to discrimination.
What are examples of ageism?
Ageism can manifest in various ways and impact different aspects of our lives. Some examples of ageism include:
- Employment discrimination – older people in the workforce may face barriers due to assumptions about their technological abilities or closeness to retirement. Younger people may struggle to break into the workforce due to assumptions based on their experiences and seriousness.
- Stereotyping – When we hold generalised beliefs about the abilities, interests, or behaviours of people in a particular age group, which do not accurately reflect their differences.
- Media representation – Portraying the older generation in media as frail, dependent, or out of touch while the younger generation may come across as irresponsible or shallow.
- Social interactions – Isolating or disregarding people based on their age which can lead to a lack of social engagement.
- Healthcare – Assuming that certain health issues only affect people in specific age groups. This can lead to the dismissal of health issues or inaccessible medical care.
- Attitudes and language – When we use negative language, patronising, or derogatory terms to describe people of a certain age.
Why is ageism bad?
Ageism, like other forms of discrimination perpetuates inequality and limits opportunities for people based on a characteristic they have no control over. It also undermines their dignity and worth, which in turn can affect their self-esteem and mental health.
When older generations are undervalued and underappreciated we lose out on a wealth of experience, knowledge and potential contributions that they have to offer. In the workplace this stereotype can affect employment opportunities and perpetuate biases, this can lead to financial instability for older and younger folks.
Ageism can also cause generational divides and hinder intergenerational understanding and collaboration. This can also lead to social exclusion and isolation which is already a big problem in the ageing community. When people of all ages have the opportunity to participate in society, it helps to give us purpose and feel valued.
Ageism towards seniors
Ageism as a concept came about because of the appreciation that older people were being treated differently than their younger counterparts, but the practice of ageism existed long before the term was ever conceived or coined. Indeed, ever since generational differences began to pervade in societies around the world with people living longer than their predecessors and growing into old age, ageism has existed.
The notion that older people were more limited in their capabilities was probably the first form of ageism, with men unable to carry out physically demanding tasks and women unable to continue to bear children as they aged. As this demographic shift has grown, perceptions of and misconceptions about the elderly also grew concurrently.
While there are many characteristics society likes to attribute to older people, the one and only true stereotype is that they have lived longer. Nonetheless, society continues to treat them as less capable, more feeble and frail, and with less to contribute to society. On the contrary, older people offer a lot to society through their wisdom, experience, understanding, and refined skill sets among other valuable traits.
Older people have an equal right to participate in every aspect of life and society that younger people do and they should be allowed to continue as long as they desire to and are able to with or without appropriate accommodation to their individual needs.
How can we be more inclusive?
Recognising and addressing ageism is essential for building a fair and inclusive society that values people from all ages and walks of life. Combating ageism requires challenging stereotypes, promoting respect for all age groups, and advocating for policies to promote equality and inclusivity across generations.
The recent increased attention afforded to ageism has created a shift in perspective and people are taking action:
- More celebrities are speaking out against age discrimination and creating roles that fairly represent the older generation in film and television.
- Organisations such as Allure Magazine, AARP and the Royal Society of Public Health in Great Britain have discontinued the use of the term “anti-aging”.
- Emphasis is being put on calling out cosmetic companies for using derogatory terms such as anti-aging to sell their products.
We can all work to raise awareness about ageism, foster understanding, and encourage respect and dignity for people of all ages. It’s important to remember that embracing a more inclusive society offers advantages for everyone. Not only does it mean valuing a diverse range of knowledge and experience, but also recognising that, one day, we will all be a part of the senior club if we are afforded the privilege.
Maple Services support seniors living with disabilities and help them to achieve their goals and journey towards a better and happy life.