Ageism is discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors. Originally it was identified chiefly towards older people, old age, and the aging process. Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.
Ageism affects everyone. Children as young as 4 years old become aware of their culture’s age stereotypes. From that age onwards they internalize and use these stereotypes to guide their feelings and behavior towards people of different ages. They also draw on culture’s age stereotypes to perceive and understand themselves, which can result in self-directed ageism at any age. Ageism intersects and exacerbates other forms of disadvantage including those related to sex, race and disability.
Ageism can be generated and reinforced in several ways, such as: negative headlines in the media; a lack of regular contact between younger and older generations; age-based prejudice in the workplace.
Research from the Royal Society for Public Health’s (RSPH) report ageist attitudes solidifying as we grow older, setting stereotypes about our older generations: Ageist attitudes harm older people as they lead to direct age-based discrimination, which can promote social exclusion, impact on mental health and affect wider determinants of health like employment. Ageist attitudes also harm individuals who, as they grow older, begin to apply negative age stereotypes to themselves.
This video explore what ageism looks like, and the impact it has on our lives. It’s produced by “Centre for Ageing Better”, UK.
STRATEGIES AGAINST AGEISM:
Three strategies work in reducing or eliminating ageism:
POLICY AND LAW: can address discrimination and inequality based on age and protect the human rights.
EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES: can enhance empathy, dispel misconceptions about different age groups and reduce prejudice by providing accurate information and counter-stereotypical examples.
INTERGENERATIONAL INTERVENTIONS: bring together people of different generations, can help reduce intergroup prejudice and stereotypes. Intergenerational engagement offers an opportunity for individuals of different age groups to confront previously held stereotypes through witnessing the person, not their age. Intergenerational practices invite participants to understand, through reflection and meaningful activities, that the fundamental component of any relationship, including those between individuals of different generations, is respect.
EXAMPLE OF SIMPLE LEARNING ACTIVITY ON AGEISM AND STEREOTYPES:
Create a spidergram with the word “teenager” in the center, ask participants to associate the word with the first thing that comes to their mind. The most common associated words could be hyper, selfish, emotional, talkative, impulsive, ecc.
Repeat the exercise using the word “elderly” instead of teenagers. Common word associations could be tired, grumpy, supponent, wise, experienced, weak, etc.
Ask participants if the adjectives came up are representative of these individuals. Inform participants that these exercises reflect the practice of stereotypes.
Ask participants some stimulus-questions such as the following: “What is your reaction to spider-gram?; Do you fit into any of the descriptions?; What do you notice in attitudes toward people your age?; In what situations do you feel judged?; Does the way people see you affect the way you feel?; etc.”
Introduce the concept of ageism and engage participants in a class discussion. Ask them if they have ever experienced or known anyone who has experienced age discrimination.