Ageism is a type of discrimination that involves prejudice against people based on their age.1 Similar to racism and sexism, ageism involves holding negative stereotypes about people of different ages. The term ageism was first used by gerontologist Robert N. Butler to describe the discrimination of older adults. Today, the term is often applied to any type of age-based discrimination, whether it involves prejudice against children, teenagers, adults, or senior citizens.
Younger adults may have difficulty finding jobs and receive lower pay due to their perceived lack of experience, while older adults may have problems achieving promotions, finding new work, and changing careers
Stereotypes That Contribute to Ageism
Researchers Susan Fiske has suggested that stereotypes about older people often relate to how younger people expect them to behave.
The first stereotype she described relates to succession. Younger people often assume that older individuals have “had their turn,” and should make way for the younger generations.
The second stereotype relates to what Fiske refers to as consumption. Younger people frequently feel that limited resources should be spent on themselves rather than on older adults.
Finally, young people also hold stereotypes about the identity of older adults. Younger people feel that those who are older than they should “act their age” and not try to “steal” the identities of younger people, including things such as speech patterns and manner of dress.
Just How Common Is Ageism?
Researchers have also found that ageism is surprisingly commonplace. In one study published in a 2013 issue of The Gerontologist, researchers looked at how older people were represented in Facebook groups. They found 84 groups devoted to the topic of older adults, but most of these groups had been created by people in their 20s. Nearly 75 percent of the groups existed to criticize older people and nearly 40 percent advocated banning them from activities such as driving and shopping.6
Older adults also feel the impact of this discrimination in the workplace. According to the US Equal Opportunity Commission, almost a quarter of all claims filed by workers are related to age-based discrimination
How To Combat Ageism
The American Psychological Association suggests that ageism is a serious issue that should be treated the same as sex, race, and disability-based discrimination. They suggest that raising public awareness about the issues ageism creates can help. As the population of older adults continues to increase, finding ways to minimize ageism will become increasingly important.
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