What is Ageism?

"I've long wondered why we describe someone's race in situations where it's irrelevant, as in 'A black guy asked me directions' or 'An Asian woman applied for the job.' Until I saw a Facebook post about 'an old lady who pushed me ahead of me in the supermarket,' I'd never given the word 'old' a second thought. What does our choice of descriptors say?"

—Erica Marks

“Discrimination by age, long-term unemployment, the fact that they’re now at the end of the hiring queue, the lack of time horizon, just does not make it sensible to invest in people 55 and older.” — Economist Daniel Hamermesh in the New York Times, 2/2/2013

"I was on an expert panel and rocked it. Afterwards, the moderator patted me on the back and said, "You did pretty good, for a youngster."

—Alice Popejoy

"When I turned 24, a friend said it would be my last good birthday."

— Lisa Montanarelli

“Both ageism and racism are based on ignorant, ‘one size fits all’ pre-conceived ideas, and both do great harm. We need to expand life’s conversation by celebrating diversity and the ability of every individual to transform.”

— Alston Green

Age is to ageism as race is to racism: discrimination on the basis of age. We experience ageism any time someone assumes that we’re “too young” or “too old” for something, instead of finding out what we’re actually capable of. As with all “isms,” stereotyping lies at the heart of it: the assumption that all members of a group are the same. Which is always a mistake, but especially so when it comes to age, because the older we get the more different from one another we become. As doctors put it, “If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old.”


Since nobody wants to die young, how come growing old inspires such dread? Because of ageism, which drowns out all but the negative messages about life after youth, and relegates olders to second-class status. Nobody even blinks when they’re described as confused or pathetic (or youngers called lazy or self-centered). Ageism damages our sense of self, segregates us, and diminishes our prospects. 


What are the antidotes?

  Information: the more we know about old age, the better it looks.

  Integration: connect with people of all ages.

  And activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, and speak out about them.