By Janine Vanderburg, Initiative Manager and Laurie Brock, Change AGEnt – 

If you are like many of us who have been working to end ageism, at some point someone has asked you:


What is ageism, and why should we care?

So here is a definition and a few statistics to help you respond the next time someone asks.

The World Health Organization defines ageism as “the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age.” Robert N. Butler, a psychiatrist and strong advocate for older adults, was the first person to coin the term ageism in 1969. [1]

Ageism can be directed against people of any age, e.g., when people stereotype all millennial employees as “entitled,” they are being ageist.

When directed at older people, ageism often involves assumptions that they are less capable, unwilling to learn new things, digitally incompetent and more. Research shows that this ageism become institutionalized, affecting hiring decisions, medical care, and social policy. [2]

Research also shows that ageism has a range of negative impacts on people’s health and financial security. And it also affects communities. When a group of people is excluded from participation because of their age, their strengths and talents are no longer available to benefit the community.


How prevalent is ageism?

In a survey of people 60 and older, 80 percent reported experiencing ageism—such as other people assuming they had memory or physical impairments due to their age [3] and almost two-thirds of workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace [4].

We are living in a time of increased longevity—the happy result of scientific advances. To make the most of this “longevity dividend,” it’s time to end ageism now.


Want to learn more?

This TED Talk by author Ashton Applewhite provides a great overview of ageism, and is a terrific resource to share with friends and colleagues who may not understand what ageism is and why we should care about it.

1. W. Andrew Achenbaum, “A History of Ageism Since 1969,” Generations 39, no. 3 (2015): 10-17.
2. Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice Against Older Persons, ed. Todd D. Nelson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), 3.
3. Melissa Dittmann, “Fighting Ageism,” The American Psychological Association Monitor 34, no. 5 (2003): 50.
4. Carol Fleck, “Forced Out, Older Workers are Fighting Back” last modified May 2014.