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Why there’s been an outbreak of ageism during the pandemic

Dear readers,

“With the pandemic, there has been a parallel outbreak of ageism,” writes social scientists in a recent article published in the Journals of Gerontology.

Ageism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s age that can be directed to both younger and older people. For the purpose of this column, we are focusing on prejudice against older adults for the sole reason that they are older. This prejudice or discrimination can occur in companies, higher education, nonprofit organizations, our healthcare system, the media, entertainment industry and even in faith-based institutions. It often is so subtle that we don’t notice it because ageism is still considered socially acceptable. Compared to racism and sexism, it is the last “ism” people accept as normal.

As ageism is reportedly increasing, we are learning more about where it is occurring and other characteristics that accompany ageism. Consider some recent information in the form of a true-false quiz. (Some of the following information is based on a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Where Age Matters” based on various research studies.)

  1. Ageism, in part, depends on where you live.

  2. States that have indicators of poor health have high rates of age bias.

  3. One reason that some states have a higher implicit negative bias towards older people might be due to the many age-restricted retirement communities in that state which can preclude regular interactions with younger people.

  4. Some people age 65 and older who had negative stereotypes of older people did not think that extremely ill older adults who tested positive for the virus should go to the hospital.

  5. People who are hostile towards older people and consider them a drain on the economy adhere less to CDC guidelines.

  6. In the early phase of the virus, everyone expressed concern because it was deadlier for older adults as indicated in Twitter posts.

  7. #Boomerremover refers to a special weight reduction program specifically designed for boomers.

  8. Colorado scores high on implicit bias against older people because few older people are skiing.


  1. True. Where you live matters. Implicit bias – a subconscious negative attitude against older persons — was found to be most prevalent in our country’s southeast and northeast states, including New Jersey, the Carolinas and Florida.

  2. True. These states had a larger percent of adults with poor health taking into consideration diet, smoking and obesity; they also had higher per capita Medicare spending.

  3. True. Age-restricted communities and retirement destinations which often have separate neighborhoods for older and younger people may deter intergenerational relationships – the opportunity to get to know one another — that can allow and often sustain age stereotypes.

  4. True. These people typically washed their hands less frequently and didn’t believe in social distancing. Their attitude was, “I don’t care…it’s an older person’s problem.”

  5. True. Researchers suggest this reflects how older people felt about themselves; that they believed they were not worth the medical care.

  6. False. A study published in the Lancet journal analyzed Twitter posts about the virus in the 10 days following the announcement of the pandemic. Nearly one-fourth of the tweets diminished the importance of the virus because older people (as opposed to younger people) died more frequently.

  7. False. This is a mean nickname for the coronavirus, appearing in 65,000 tweets referring to the mortality rate particularly among boomers between ages 56 and 74, infected with the virus.

  8. False. The state of Colorado scores low on implicit bias; it is one of the nation’s leaders in challenging and overcoming age stereotypes. One reason is the effective nonprofit organization, “Changing the Narrative,” a strategic communications and awareness campaign to increase understanding of ageism and to shift how Coloradans think about aging.

Ageism is subtle. When we experience it or observe it, we need to speak up particularly when social media messages about COVID-19 and aging characterize older adults as helpless and expendable individuals.

Next week, I will share an innovative Colorado-based product that is helping to shape how we think about aging in a realistic manner. My guess is that every one of us would like to receive one of these. In the meantime, stay safe, well and be good 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 Visit Helen at and follow her on


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