Do you ever make fun of old people, or have you heard others do it? Effects of age discrimination, sometimes referred to as ageism, can really be hurtful to an elderly person, not only their emotions, but their social standing and their ability to make money and support themselves and their families. The really striking effect is that those who discriminate will likely become part of the affected group, if they live that long. There’s even a meme out there where the proverbial elderly one is addressed, “OK Boomer….” This makes fun of the person’s era and denotes that those of the Baby Boom generation are out of touch. In this article, I’m going to define ageism, tell you why it happens, and give you grandparents a way to combat it.
What is Ageism?
“Ageism, also spelled agism, is stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined “ageism” as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.” From Wikipedia
Have I Personally Been Subjected to Age Discrimination?
A recent A.A.R.P. study revealed that sixty-four per cent of Americans between forty-five and sixty had seen or experienced age discrimination at work.
You might be thinking, if you look at my profile picture, what has SHE got to say about age discrimination? I don’t think I have had to suffer (yet) from being discriminated against because of my age. This is probably because I am lucky enough to look younger than I am. I am 55, and I know I don’t look it. My husband is about 6 weeks younger than me, but he looks 10 years older.
I have, however, been discriminated against because I am an obese, and because I’m a woman. (See here my articles about my obesity, in case you are interested), So I know what discrimination feels like, and I do worry about being discriminated against if I try to find another job, at my age. The whole reason my husband and I moved to where we live is that we don’t have to compete for jobs. Down on the Front Range (the I25 corridor that runs north and south, including Denver), I would have to compete with a bunch of 23-year-olds, fresh out of college. Here in the remote areas of Colorado, there are very few people with my job qualifications, old or young. Same goes for my husband. In a low-unemployment environment, like we have not. we can walk in anywhere to get a job, and command our own price. That surely would not happen if we had to compete with the youngsters.
So no I haven’t been subject to ageism, but I worry that I will soon.
Why are Elderly People Often Victims of Discrimination?
Technology: First of all, in general, elderly people have issues with technology. (If you are one of the lucky ones that is on top of your tech, good for you! But the majority of us do have a hard time with our phones and computers). Here are few facts about seniors and their problems with technology:
- US statistics show that 23% of older adults indicate that they have a physical or health condition that makes reading difficult or challenging.
- Many seniors struggle with touch screens due to a condition called leathery fingers.
- Elderly people often are challenged by cognitive issues, either due to advanced age, or medications that dull down their ability to learn new things.
- Mastering new technology is often complicated as the seniors have no experience in using technology to use as a baseline. Seniors generally have a lesser frame of reference to enable them to absorb new knowledge.
- 83% of seniors between 64–74 years of age use the internet on a weekly basis or more frequent.
- 96% of seniors over the age of 67 own a mobile phone, but under half own a smartphone.
I often compare myself with my kids, when it comes to this technology “generation gap”. When I was in high school, there as one computer class that was an elective. (Typing class was also an elective that you didn’t take until high school.) You had to write your Basic program, then you were assigned a time in the “computer lab” which consisted of two computer terminals. To access the “Main Frame”, you had to pick up the phone and call the computer, then press the phone receiver into the modem. Nine times out of ten, you spent your half hour assigned time just trying to get a good connection on the modem. And you were often kicked off, because the student accounts were low priority. Needless to say, I flunked the class, because I could never get the thing to work.
Fast forward ten years to when my first daughter was in Kindergarten. There was a room full of PCs (complete with internal modems or hooked right up to the LAN), and the kids went to computer class every day. My youngest daughter types faster than a person can talk, because while she was learning to read, she was learning to type.
Politics: I don’t REALLY want to get into a big political discussion at this time. That’s a subject for a whole other blog website! And please remember that this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. But politics is a huge factor in age discrimination.
As a person born in the last year of the Baby Boom, I was brought up as a good Republican, and voted GOP in every election until I was in my late 40s. I trusted my elected leaders, and believed that most of what they said was true, and in the best interest of our country and its people. But when I lost everything during the 2008 Great Recession, I became disillusioned. It is my firm belief that if you didn’t suffer great losses during 2008, as many Baby Boomers didn’t, you are still in that category that I was in, that you still believe and trust your elected officials.
Younger people, however, because they are more socially connected by technology than my Baby Boomer counter parts, are more aware of politics. They see that their senators and congress people have been in their seats for 20+ years, Baby Boomers, all, and feel that these politicians are out of touch and don’t represent them.
“Although millennials exhibit more faith in community volunteering and entrepreneurship than other Americans, they set historically low marks for trust in government, according to a Harvard University’s Institute of Politics survey. That’s because millennials—who came of age up in a world of Google, Wikipedia and social media—have an unprecedented expectation of accountability. Politicians’ claims are routinely fact-checked. “Because I read it in the paper,” has become an absurd reason to believe something is true. And the news media are no longer the gatekeepers to information.” From The Atlantic
Education: If you look at young educated people vs. older educated people, you will see huge differences. Think about it: People who went to college right out of high school in my class of ’82, currently have an education that is 30-some years old. Born 1981-1996 (22-37 years old), millenials are somewhere between still being in college, or have been out of college and have recently started new careers. A lot has happened in the last 30 years in just about every field of study.
“In the nineteen-twenties, an engineer’s “half life of knowledge”—the time it took for half of his expertise to become obsolete—was thirty-five years. In the nineteen-sixties, it was a decade. Now it’s five years at most, and, for a software engineer, less than three.” From The New Yorker
So even though having a four-year degree should present a level playing field between young people and the elderly, the seniors are once again at the disadvantage. It’s hard to be taken seriously when your ideas are considered antiquated and out of touch with what is going on today.
Social Notions and Norms: We have been told, over and over, by the media, that aging is bad. Get your retinal-A cream to fight wrinkles, and your testosterone boosters to fight low T. Get your Cosequin to keep your joints from aging. Eat this and do that to look and feel younger. All of us from babies to Boomers are subjected to a constant barrage of ads and articles that tell us Young = Good, and Old = Bad.
“In 2016, Americans spent sixteen billion dollars on plastic surgery, most of it on fountain-of-youth treatments for wrinkles, trying to close the gap between interior vitality and exterior decay.” From The New Yorker
Many of us look old despite doing the treatments and activities that are supposed to make us look and feel younger. How are we to feel validated and important when the whole world has been steeped in this type of negative atmosphere?
“The A.A.R.P. has proclaimed that “anti-aging” and its synonyms “serve no other purpose than to, well . . . make people feel bad about aging.” This has prompted several companies to drop the word “anti-aging” from it’s advertising campaigns
Predisposure: Lastly, and most surprisingly, those who hold age discriminatory attitudes tend to become more of what causes discriminatory reaction in other people later in life. These people become more affected by dementia and other cognitive conditions. “The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging reports, “Those holding more negative age stereotypes earlier in life had significantly steeper hippocampal volume loss and significantly greater accumulation of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques.” Ageists become the senescent figures they once abhorred.” From The New Yorker
So What Do We Do to Combat the Discrimination?
1. Reject the label. Don’t buy into the notion that elderly people are too old, irrelevant, unable to perform or accomplish tasks as well as younger folks, or unable to contribute creative ideas, and innovative concepts in a meaningful way.
2. Be proud of your age. Embrace your accumulation of years. Think about what you did to get where you are and be proud and happy that you made it here, where others have failed.
3. Stay relevant. Take classes. Renew your trade licenses even if you have retired. Read, particularly newspapers if they are available, or read the books on the best-sellers lists.
4. Be open. Bear in mind that your education may have an expiration date, and understand that new ideas and concepts have occurred since you were in school. If your notions are challenged, research to make sure they are still valid before you dig in your heels.
5. Develop new relationships. Get to know some younger people. Talk to them and listen to what they say. Ask their opinions. Learn their new language. Ask them for help when you get stuck on technology. Hang out with them. Watch their movies and listen to their music.
6. Spend time with your grandchildren. Or “borrow” grandchildren by volunteering for K-12 projects or give your time to the boys and girls clubs. Sign up to mentor a child.
7. Do things that make you feel young. If coloring your hair or visiting your plastic surgeon makes you feel better, then go for it. Or buy some trendy clothing and get your hair cut in the latest fashion. Engage in fun, youthful activities with young people.
8. And most of all, prove them wrong! Show people that you can accomplish tasks and be useful. Show them that your point of view is relevant, and that you are interested in what’s happening now in the world.
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Age discrimination is just another way for ignorant and unaware people to separate Us from Them. We all need to adapt to an attitude of kindness and consideration, and above all, respect for everyone, different and the same as ourselves. Elderly people are really no different from anyone else, and if people are lucky enough, they will end up elderly too. So please, if you find yourself discriminating against a senior citizen, just remember that you will likely become one too someday, and try to be a little nicer.
Please leave your questions and comments below, and thank you for reading!