Is This “Ageism?”
Q: A 63 year old acquaintance told me that she’s having trouble finding another job despite having worked professionally for years. She suspects that younger managers think that older workers don’t have much to contribute and can’t learn what the job involves. This sounds like a form of age discrimination to me. What do you think?
A: Our society doesn’t always treat older Americans as equals, but we also share part of the blame when we as a society fail to confront those who marginalize our participation and overlook our contributions. As more people are working and living healthy, longer lives, more of us are crashing into insidiously-common age stereotypes — including those we hold about ourselves.
Youth bias, for example, has been found built into human resources hiring criteria. According to a story appearing in The Washington Post, the lack of success in job hunting experienced by one 60 year old man, who had formerly worked as general counsel to a major food distributor, wasn’t due to a tough job market. The job he was interested in called for a maximum of seven years of legal experience, far less than he actually had. He applied for the job anyway, and was passed over. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination.
Ageism prejudices include the most tightly-held misconceptions that even we ourselves can be guilty of holding unaware. The public tends to think of age as time of decline rather than a normal process of growth, and that nothing can be done to counteract the aging process, even though new technologies make it possible to work longer than ever.
Ageism causes financial abuse. Nearly one-in-20 older adults say they were financially mistreated according to a study by the Justice Department, but unlike other types of crime, such exploitation — whether by family, friends, or others — often gets little attention, and is either dismissed with little or no penalty, or handled in civil court. Unlike child abuse, financial exploitation is routinely overlooked and unreported because there are no formal government-run systems for complaints and interventions. In some states, for example, targeting older people for predatory loans isn’t a crime. Some older Americans have lost their entire life savings, and even their homes.
Ageism can even make us sick. One study found that older adults who held negative views about old age faced life expectancies that were, on average, seven and one-half years shorter than those of their peers.
One of the first steps we can take is to eliminate the blind spot to ageism and understand how it prevents older people from finding work and living healthy lives, and how it affects financial security. Our current policies often can make it harder to stay involved, but there’s a lot we can do to change that and to provide opportunities for older people to participate and contribute to their communities. To learn more about ageism: Read the blog by Ashton Applewhite: “Yo, Is This Ageist?”
“Baby Boomers Are Taking On Ageism — And Losing,” Lydia DePillis, The Washington Post, August 4, 2016. “The Pernicious Problem of Ageism,” Laura A. Robbins, The Journal of the American Society on Aging, October 22, 2015. “1 in 5 Adults Report Age Discrimination in Healthcare Settings,” Alexandra Wilson Pecci, HealthLeadersMedia.com April 10, 2015. “Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory,” Elizabeth Olson, The New York Times, November, 27, 2015.