Why does ageism continue and what can be done about it?
Many of the questions I receive from our readers deal with a fundamental issue: ageism. Their emails and letters express frustration and annoyance with ageism as the core of their issue.
Here are a few examples: “The job interviewer seemed to be surprised the way I looked when I entered the office for an interview. Perhaps it was my gray hair.” (This was pre-pandemic). “My health-care professional speaks only to my daughter who is in the examining room with me; I feel invisible.” “I am offended by these ageist birthday cards that are supposed to be funny.” “What do you mean we cannot use technology?”
As society becomes increasingly aware of ageism, we hear little about the important work being done for a course correction. Here is some of that work as an assurance that ageism is not being ignored.
Old School: Anti Ageism Clearinghouse. Old School was developed, in part, by author, visionary and advocate Ashton Applewhite, author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” (2016, Celadon Books). It is a clearinghouse that is free with vetted resources to educate people about ageism and dismantle it. The Clearinghouse includes blogs, articles, videos, speakers and accessible tools for the public. Its goal is to catalyze a movement that makes ageism as unacceptable as other “isms.” For example, it includes facts to reduce stigma, guidelines for imagery and language and how to hold an intergenerational age café. There are podcasts by the BBC on how to end ageism and published reports such as “The Truth about Ageism in the Tech Industry” and “Crossing Boundaries: Addressing Ageism Through Children’s Books.”
Yo, Is This Ageist? This resource, whose name was inspired by Andrew Ti’s blog and podcast about racism, also developed by Applewhite is a response to someone’s question about ageism. For example, “My marketing department wants to change the voice on our answering machine because her voice is sounding old.” “Is this ageist?” Response: “Steer the conversation towards the impression the department would like the voice to make. Is it authoritative? Distinctive? Friendly?” “Then ask what kind of actors could pull that off?” “Think about Morgan Freeman at age 84.”
FrameWorks Institute: Ageism: Based on extensive research, Frameworks addresses negative attitudes toward aging and powerful ways to shift thinking about aging and older people. They too have available research reports, articles and a toolkit on aging that provides alternative language. For example, instead of referring to the growing number of older adults as a “tidal wave” or “tsunami,” give up on the catastrophic words and instead speak affirmatively such as, “As Americans live longer and healthier lives…” Instead of “seniors” “elderly” and “aging dependents,” use more neutral terms such as “older people,” and use “we” and “us” rather than referring to older people as “those others.”
Changing the Narrative, Colorado: This is a strategic communication and awareness campaign to increase the understanding of ageism while changing how people think, talk and act about aging and ageism. Their campaign offers public speaking engagements, training, blogs, opinion pieces, letters to the editor and messages for social media and other platforms. Changing the Narrative trains advocates, policymakers and other influencers of all ages using evidence-based communication tools and messages developed by FrameWorks Institute designed for Colorado audiences. They offer a speaker’s bureau, how to reach elected officials and ways to consider one’s own language and internalized ageism. Examples of internalized ageism are “I’m too old for that” or “You look good for your age.” They also launched a contest among Colorado artists for the graphics used for anti-ageist or neutral birthday cards that celebrate age rather than humorously denigrate it. The cards are available to the public for purchase.
Add to that EverAGE Counts, an Australian national coalition involved in advocacy and political engagement addressing structural or implicit ageism in employment, healthcare, housing, economic security and more. AARP’s Disrupt Aging is a collection of over 1400 images free of ageist stereotypes. Then there is the World Health Organization with a strategic campaign to reduce or eliminate ageism in policy and law, educational activities and launching intergenerational activities as an intervention to ageism.
Additional books on the subject include “Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End it” by Tracey Gendron (2022, Steerforth Press) and “How Not to Shoot Old People“ by Margaret Morganroth Gullette (2017, Rutgers University Press).
These are just several robust resources to counteract ageism, collectively forming an anti-ageism movement.
Here is the big question: With all of this research, knowledge, strategic communications and tools, why does the fight against ageism still continue? If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know. Also, include any positive experiences or observations.
In the meantime, stay well and safe and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.