Ageism: Age Discrimination

Aging means that our image is modified and seeing that evolution in others anticipates a future that we will access. For this very reason, some people may experience annoyance, shame, rejection or fear of what is to come.

In today’s “more developed” societies, focused on economic success, youth and competitiveness, there is a representation of the undervalued and welfare-minded elderly. This phenomenon of social devaluation and ignorance of the capacities of the elderly is what has come to be called ageism.

This is a term that comes from the English ageism and that means to discriminate against a person because of their age. It is about the exclusion of a person for the simple fact of age. Of marginalizing her and verbally incapacitating her for being older than others.

Ageism describes those negative, unfavorable and discriminatory attitudes based on age, and that in some way disregards the rights of the older population in favor of other more productive members of society.

As a general rule, when discriminating, two groups are created. The ” others” , the external group, with negative characteristics that marches the dividing line with the group to which the others belong, the ” us” .

The funny thing about aging is that we really avoid a group that we will invariably join at some point, it’s like we discriminate against our future selves.

Furthermore, what is most striking is that the population group with the most ageism is middle-aged. This is due to the fact that middle-aged people see old age close and feel the need to maintain their image through discrimination against older people.

Types of ageism:

Ageism is also present within national institutions, in the workplace, health care, language and in the media. In this way, several types of ageism are appreciated:

  • In people : exclude or ignore the elderly, physical abuse, stereotypes about old age or the elderly.
  • Institutional : mandatory retirement, non-inclusion of the elderly in clinical trials, devaluation of the elderly in cost / benefit analyzes.
  • Intentional : ideas, attitudes and norms or practices carried out with the knowledge that they go against people or groups because of their age. It is seen in advertising campaigns, the subject of financial scams, or the denial of professional training because of age.
  • Unintentional or involuntary : ideas, attitudes and norms that are ageist, that are complied with or that are favored without the person being aware that it harms older groups. Examples could be found in the absence of adapted architectural elements and in the language used by some media.

    Stereotypes of ageism

    Stereotypes are simplified and biased ideas about the personal characteristics of a group of people. Norms and values ​​that prevail in our environment and that seek to justify discriminatory attitudes against people on the basis of age.

    This simplification of reality ends up causing older people to legitimize these stereotypes by underestimating their abilities and passively accepting the negative image of old age.

    There are at least nine important stereotypes that reflect negative prejudices towards the elderly:

    • Illness : the most common, since the elderly are often associated with poor health.
    • Disability : more than 85% of people aged 65 and over are healthy enough to carry out the activities of daily living.
    • Ugliness : it has to do with the idea that beauty is lost as you get older.
    • Mental decline and depression : it is related to the idea that mental abilities only decline after a certain age.
    • Isolation : despite the fact that there is a large percentage of older people who live alone, they are not isolated.
    • Poverty : This stereotype ranges from those who think that the majority of the elderly are poor to those who think that they are rich.

    What are the consequences for the elderly?

    Older people tend to adopt the dominant negative image in society and to behave according to that image, which defines what an older person should or should not do.

    This poor assessment of the physical and mental capacities of the elderly can favor the following aspects:

    • Losing independence prematurely.
    • Greater disability.
    • Higher rates of depression.
    • An anticipated mortality.

    The principle that describes this situation is self-fulfilling prophecy . In social interaction, people through their behaviors are the mirror in which a person is identified. In this way, aging, being surrounded by stereotypes and ageisms, turns older people into potential victims.

    How to act?

    To eradicate ageism, changes have to be produced both in the systems that perpetuate it  and in the media, popular culture, institutions, government, etc.

    It is essential to carry out intervention policies through targeted programs to reduce the impact of ageist ideas and attitudes in society.

    In addition, emphasis must be placed on the training and education of professionals who serve today and will serve the elderly in the future. At the same time, it is necessary to cover the elderly themselves and their families.