Ageism: What It Is & How To Fight It

Ageism: What It Is & How To Fight It

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Age discrimination has been a recognized issue for many decades. In the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against workers over the age of 40, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.


Despite laws against it, ageism continues to be an issue throughout much of the world. Knowing your rights and fighting for them is an important part of combatting these continuing injustices.


Age Discrimination in the Workplace

In recent years, the proportion of seniors in the workforce has grown. As employees age, they may find themselves affected by subtle and not-so-subtle forms of age discrimination. A successful employee may suddenly begin receiving poor performance reviews, for instance. Another motivated worker may be encouraged to retire despite his desire to continue working.


Nearly two-thirds of workers over the age of 55 have either witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, it appears that age discrimination is on the rise. In recent years, over 21,000 age discrimination complaints were filed in the United States, up from 15,000 in 1997. Older women seeking new jobs are particularly vulnerable to age discrimination, receiving fewer callbacks when seeking new jobs. On average, unemployed older adults spend nearly a year waiting to be hired, compared with just seven months for younger job-seekers.


Research has proven that older workers are generally more loyal and tend to stick with jobs for longer periods of time. Workers in their 50s and 60s also bring a wealth of experience to their positions, endowing them with unique perspectives on many workplace issues. Diligence, punctuality, organizational talent, and excellent communication skills are a few of the many capabilities that mature workers tend to possess. Unfortunately, employers often overlook these assets, falsely believing that younger workers bring more to the table. Fighting these false beliefs and stereotypes may reduce age discrimination in the workplace and beyond.


Other Cases of Ageism

Older employees aren’t the only victims of ageist beliefs. One study indicated that nearly 80% of individuals over the age of 60 were affected by ageism. Respondents cited not being taken seriously, assumptions of mental or physical impairments, and age-related jokes as some of the behaviors that most often affected them. Medical professionals are also more likely to view older patients as inflexible and set in their ways, negatively affecting the treatment these patients receive. The underdiagnosis of mental illnesses within the senior population may also be correlated with ageist stereotyping. These prejudices and behaviors can have an adverse effect on older adults’ health and well-being.


Fighting AgeismCombatting ageism is challenging. Research has shown that stereotypes regarding age have been internalized by children by the age of four. Stereotypes promoted by the media further reinforce these beliefs. To truly change ageist beliefs, we will need to transform the ways in which we view aging as whole.


Speaking up against ageism is one of the most effective ways of generating change. If someone says something ageist, make them aware of their unjust stereotyping. If you’re experiencing discrimination in a professional setting, strive to document every incident. Write down what happened, who was there, and the feelings each situation triggered. Consider reaching out to fellow employees who may also be experiencing age discrimination. If the behavior persists, reach out to human resources professionals, a lawyer, or the equal employment office in your community. Though winning an age discrimination case is often difficult, pursuing legal action may be worth considering.


Outside of the workplace, strive to defy the stereotypes of old age. Surround yourself with individuals of all ages and speak up in conversations. Maintain a positive outlook on life and continue to live independently. Keep yourself informed about contemporary news and technology. By staying engaged with the world around you, you’ll prove the naysayers wrong.


In Conclusion:

Though combatting ageism may be difficult, we can all change our own perceptions of the aging process. Adults over the age of 50 who have positive perceptions of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those who have negative views on the subject! Exposure to positive stereotypes about aging has been proven to improve the mental and physical health of older adults. Instead of focusing on the challenges of aging, concentrate on the wisdom you’ve gained and the lessons you’ve learned. By carrying these positive perspectives with you, you can defy the stereotypes and live a long and healthy life.




Photo: © Monkey Business /

Editor, 07/27/2017