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10 questions that reveal how much you know about ageism and its costs

October 7 is Ageism Awareness Day for a good reason: Ageism is alive and well; it’s everywhere as a stereotype, prejudice and ultimately as an act of discrimination against older people, all based on age.

We see it in the entertainment, tech, and greeting-card industries. It exists in our healthcare systems and within social media, medical research and among families and friends. Ageism is the most widespread and socially accepted form of prejudice, often considered normative. And that’s the problem. Many are unaware they harbor ageist attitudes towards others, themselves or support ageist policies, programs or practices.

We have federal legislation to counteract ageism in the workplace. It’s called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applicable to companies with 20 or more employees. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against those aged 40 and older based on their age for decisions of employment, promotion, compensation, raises, termination, training and more.

There’s the rub. One can legislate actions but not how one thinks and feels. Ageism Awareness Day is a wake-up call to do just that.

Take this true/false quiz on ageism. There might be a few surprises:

1. The term “ageism” is a relatively recent term having been coined 20 years ago.

False. The late geriatrician Dr. Robert N. Butler defined ageism as the systemic discrimination against older people in 1968. That was 55 years ago.

2. Ageist attitudes typically are developed in the young adult years as they have increased exposure to older workers in the workplace.

False. Ageism and age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age — long before they are even relevant. Even by the age of 3, children are familiar with age stereotypes, which are reinforced over their lifetimes.

3. Older persons with a more positive self-perception of aging live 7.5 years longer than those with a less positive self-perception.

True. Self-perceptions can influence how long we live. Research by Becca Levy, professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, noted this longevity advantage remained regardless of the age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health of the research participants.

4. Ageism is a detriment to older adults’ financial well-being.

True. Older adults who seek work face longer periods of unemployment and discrimination during the hiring process and have fewer professional development opportunities. All of this leads to fewer opportunities for earning.

5. Ageism has little impact on our economy.

False. Because older workers experience involuntary retirement, underemployment and unemployment, the U.S. economy has lost $850 billion dollars, according to AARP. By 2050, losses due to age discrimination could reach $3.9 trillion.

6. Older adults typically are included in clinical trials.

False. Older adults typically are not included in clinical trials and are less likely to receive preventative care. Ageism in healthcare has been linked to decreased survival rates, inadequate or inappropriate care, more emergency room visits and hospitalizations and more.

7. We generally have sufficient geriatricians in the U.S.

False. We have 8,220 full-time practicing geriatricians in the U.S. and 56 million adults ages 65 or older; 30 percent need a geriatrician. And each geriatrician typically can see 700 patients.

8. Among medical specialties, geriatrics is considered among the most lucrative.

False. Geriatricians earn on average $233,564 annually. Anesthesiologists are paid twice that and cardiologists and radiologists’ salaries top $500,000.

9. Marketers and advertisers have become increasingly aware of the senior market and are allocating a significant amount of their budgets to target older consumers.

False. An estimated five to ten percent of marketing budgets are devoted to reaching adults age 50 and older. When older adults appear in an advertisement, they are often presented in a negative light.

10. Given that older adults watch an average of four hours of television a day, television programming is devoted more time and budgets to feature older adults.

False. Ageism in the media remains pervasive. One study found that only one and half percent of characters on television were older people. Most of the characters portrayed have minor roles and often for comic effect.

Ageism Awareness Day provides each of us the opportunity to do a self-check. Consider how you feel and think about yourself as you get older and how you think and feel about older people. What assumptions do we make about older adults in their capacity to adapt, to be flexible, use technology or learn something new? We know change begins one person at a time. If not now, when?

So, support Ageism Awareness Day on October 7 and know that kindness – every day – is a universal language.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on

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