Last November, I completed Changing the Narrative’s Ending Ageism training and became a program facilitator and speaker for the organization. Since then, I’ve facilitated discussions and led ageism workshops for corporations, community organizations, and religious groups. 

While our discussions have helped shed light on ageism and its effects on all of us, I’m surprised by one common truth that seems to always percolate to the surface—People have a high tolerance for ageism, and they don’t even know it. In other words, many don’t know what ageism is and that it’s detrimental to others and ourselves.  

Ageism is everywhere

Honestly, it’s not their fault. After all, ageism is one of the last socially acceptable isms. It’s an invisible but potent type of discrimination that creeps into our everyday lives, shaping our perceptions, influencing our decisions, limiting our opportunities, and fostering disconnection. Ageism is so ingrained in our culture that to a degree, we’ve become numb to ageist beliefs and attitudes because it often takes root early in life. 

As children, we begin to pick up on the idea that aging is an unsatisfying process and older adults are incapable of taking care of themselves. These messages often show up in the media we consume. 

Just picture commercials that promise to reverse unsightly age lines or television shows that depict older adults as clueless and frail. Ageist messaging can also be passed along through jokes and casual comments from family members and friends. Do any of the following examples of everyday ageism resonate?

  • Hosting birthday parties featuring black balloons or giving cards that make fun of getting old.
  • Spending hundreds of dollars on “anti-aging” products and services to feel better about yourself.
  • Praising older people by comparing them to younger ones: “You look good for [your age],” “You’re young at heart” or “Inside, I feel 30 years younger.”
  • Describing minor forgetfulness as a “senior moment.”
  • Sitting in the doctor’s office while health care and social-service providers dismiss a patient’s ailments as something that’s just par for the course because they’re old.
  • Using patronizing language directed at older people like sweetie, dear, honey, he’s so sweet, isn’t she cute. 
  • Lying about your age for fear of negative perceptions.

Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about some of these scenarios or comments. And, I’m sure I’ve given my fair share of black balloons. While ageism lurks in almost every aspect of our daily life, I suppose another main contributing factor is that ageism isn’t something we regularly talk about or perceive as a “negative” thing, so we let it slide, don’t say anything, or simply ignore it. 

But at what risk?  

Ageism steals our future

For starters, our world is aging rapidly. By 2050, the global population aged 60 and above is projected to reach 2 billion. Ignoring ageism perpetuates inequality and denies opportunities to a significant portion of society.

Economically speaking, older adults contribute significantly to economies—through work, entrepreneurship, and consumer spending. Ageism hinders economic growth by sidelining experienced workers and consumers.

An AARP study found that more than one in four older workers who were unemployed (for reasons besides health or family) said age discrimination was a reason for their unemployment.

From a health and well-being standpoint, ageism affects mental and physical health. Negative stereotypes lead to stress, depression, and reduced access to healthcare. 

A Yale study found age discrimination accounts for $1 of every $7 spent on 8 chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and mental disorders.

And unfortunately, ageism isn’t the only ism creating division in our world. Ageism intersects with other forms of discrimination—sexism, racism, and ableism—further compounding the effect for many.

These are just a few of the many ways ageism is wreaking havoc on our present and stealing our future. Enough. That’s why I’m a big fan of the work organizations like Changing the Narrative are doing to rescript the conversation around aging, raise our collective awareness, and champion change. After all, aging isn’t something that only happens to some of us. If we’re lucky, it will happen to all of us. It’s time to change minds, hearts, and #endageism, one conversation at a time.  

Guadalupe Hirt is a four-time entrepreneur, pro-aging advocate, and middlescence life strategist.

She pens the LinkedIn blog Dear Middlescent, a pro-aging stance on the beauty, truths, and opportunities of middlescence. She’s a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging honoree, Facebook Community Accelerator Alum, and Encore Network board member.

Discover more from Changing the Narrative

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Skip to content