Ageism is, simply put, discrimination based on age, rooted in negative stereotypes and the cultural perception that aging is unwelcome, that it’s bad to grow older. In fact, becoming a senior is better in so many ways – from wisdom and experience, to increased confidence and a degree of freedom – and yet, the benefits are often overlooked. With the growth of an aging population, so too comes the need to find ways to combat ageism, much like we do sex, race and disability-based discrimination.
What’s the Big Deal?
Think it’s just harmless jokes about having a “senior moment”? Think again, because often-ignored age-based discrimination can have serious economic, social and psychological effects.
According to the WHO, research shows that being discriminated against based on age can impact a senior’s health, not to mention their finances, job prospects, quality of life or even the policies and programs offered for seniors. Ageism can lead to cardiovascular stress, decreased confidence and reduced productivity. Even seniors with negative attitudes about ageing may live 7.5 years less than seniors who view aging more positively. Seniors can also be put in a more vulnerable position if caregivers in health and social-care settings have innate discriminatory beliefs about elderly patients.
For the sake of every senior today, and the 2 billion of the world population that will be over 60 within the next 30 years, it’s important to prevent ageism from becoming more pervasive. We need to address it to ensure nobody loses out based on a number.
Examples of Ageism
Ageism is surprisingly universal, with examples ranging from serious to subtle, however all contributing to the negative stereotypes surrounding aging and senior life.
Imagine there are two highly qualified job applicants—one is younger and the other is visibly older. Chances are, the younger person will be hired, as some hiring managers mistakenly see seniors as less capable or more fragile than someone who is younger. Some may view a senior candidate as someone who has already “had their turn” and needs to make way for a new generation.
Hollywood offers a more obvious example. Look at the latest blockbuster films and it’s clear that older female actors aren’t offered as many leading roles as their similarly aged male counterparts. Instead, these women are relegated to the sidelines while the idea of being younger is equated with being more attractive or desirable. It’s not fair or true, but these examples of ageism are commonplace.
While many people believe ageism is primarily a workplace issue, you may have been impacted by it without even realizing. Sometimes, it’s not as obvious. Here are a few more everyday, practical examples you or someone you know may already have experienced:
-Being refused a new credit card, car insurance or travel insurance because of your age,
-Receiving poorer service in a shop or restaurant because of your age,
-Being refused a referral from a doctor to a specialist because you’re “too old,”
-Being targeted by door-to-door salespeople or phone scams,
-Being inundated with “anti-aging” products and service,
-Being subject to patronizing language and name-calling.
What Can We Do?
To break down the stereotypes and outdated concepts of aging, we need to start a new narrative surrounding ageing and raise public awareness of ageism.
But how do we dispel common stereotypes among ageists? Here’s what the experts suggest can make a difference on a larger scale:
When older men and women are more visible in ad campaigns, on TV, in magazines and in movie roles and are presented in a way that shows them as valued and vibrant, it helps change preconceived notions about what it means to be older. It also helps present a more balanced view of what it looks like to age.
Similar public relations or communications campaigns can tackle ageism by increasing awareness in the media, among the public, as well as among policymakers, employers and caregivers or service providers. There is a wide range of diversity among seniors, and it’s important to discuss the inequalities caused by ageism and counter stereotypes that see older people as burdens, rather than assets, to society.
Continue to legislate against ageism to prevent age-based discrimination. This helps ensure that society at large treats older people as individuals that should be assessed based on their merits and experience, not solely on their age. Everyone deserves the chance to be judged by their skills and abilities, not just the year they were born.
What can you do to combat ageism on a personal level? Don’t succumb to stereotypes. Realize that aging is a beautiful process—it means you’re living your life and get to experience new things and watch your family expand. It means you can take advantage of exciting experiences and your newfound freedom to enjoy all life has to offer. You can travel, spend quality time with family and friends, pursue new hobbies, and take care of yourself in a way you might not have had time for before. The more others see you enjoying your life—the more they see seniors living healthy lives and being active—the more perceptions will change. When it comes to the aging process, you might not like every aspect of it, but there are also a lot of benefits. Read our blog on The Top 10 Benefits Of Aging!
It’s time to let go of any ageist stereotypes you may hold yourself (yes, you can stop lying about your age – it’s a beautiful and well-deserved number) and let’s all strive to transform “getting on in age” from a negative into a welcome, positive happening.
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