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April 21, 2021

Fighting Back Against Stereotypes About Getting Older

By 2050, it is projected that there will be two billion people in the world who are aged 60 and over. Longevity is generally seen as a positive thing, yet there continue to be several negative attitudes to aging. Older people are often seen as frail, incapable, and burdensome. People assume they are out of touch with technology and pop culture. 

In the workplace, 50-plus employees are thought to be incapable of learning new things and relating to younger generations. Sometimes, they are forced to retire long before they’re ready solely on the basis of age. Fortunately, individuals and organizations across the globe are fighting back against common misconceptions. Age-related discrimination isn’t challenged as much as sexism or racism, but as you’ll see in the post, it’s getting more and more attention these days. 

How Older People Are Viewed 

The World Health Organization’s 2016 analysis of the “World Values Survey” found that ageist attitudes were widespread and they harmed older people’s mental and physical health. As many as 60% of the 83,000 participants said older people were not respected. High-income countries reported the lowest levels of respect. 

WHO Director of Ageing and Life Course John Beard was quoted as saying that while age discrimination was “extremely common,” most people were not aware of the subconscious stereotypes they have about older adults. Noting that it’s possible to change social norms surrounding age, he said the time had come to stop defining people by their age. Rooting out ageism, he said, would make societies healthier, more equitable and more prosperous. 

Meanwhile, WHO’s Coordinator of Ageing and Life Course stressed that ageist prejudices must be eradicated in order for society to benefit from increased longevity. WHO was clear that many policies ignored that older people are not all the same and they have a wide range of capabilities. This is clearly seen when mandatory retirement age is imposed. Still, there is hope. 

How Ageism is Being Tackled Around the World 

Individuals, organizations, and governments are fighting back against age discrimination. For example, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has developed a guide to help mature people identify and challenge ageism. Entitled “Taking Action Against Ageism” the guide looks at the different types of age discrimination and how individuals can get support if they believe they are being discriminated against. It is all part of the office’s plan to bring an end to ageism. 

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto in Canada launched an Anti-Ageism in the Workplace campaign in 2019. Not only does it raise awareness about the main forms of age discrimination, but it highlights the deleterious impact it has on individuals and how people at all levels of an organization can help to combat it. 

Then there’s the work of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Gerontology. This department focuses its research, teaching, and community engagement on disrupting ageism and challenging the assumption that aging is about decline. 

Combating Internalized Attitudes 

One individual who has mounted a platform against negative attitudes toward aging is author and activist Ashton Applewhite. You may assume that only younger people are guilty of ageism, but in an interview with Kiplinger, Applewhite said mature people are often the most ageist. It is, therefore, not surprising that she believes the first step in stamping out age discrimination is for older people to examine their own attitudes about aging. This is in line with European Union-funded research which showed that other people’s perceptions of elderly people had a lot to do with older people’s beliefs about their age as well as their health. 

Applewhite noted that people grow up hearing negative messages about aging, and they internalize these attitudes rather than challenge them. For Applewhite, internalized ageism contributes to the underreporting of age-related discrimination in the workplace. She recommended that older people recognize ageism as a form of systemic discrimination rather than a personal failing. Doing so has implications for individuals, businesses, and society at large. 

Join the Fight Against Ageism with Help from WiseForce Advisors 

Despite the many stereotypes, research shows that healthy, engaged employees make a significant contribution to their workplaces. They offer wisdom and several years of institutional knowledge that can directly impact a company’s bottom line. While they may attract higher salaries and incur higher insurance premiums, their productivity is also higher, and they’re less likely to seek a new job elsewhere. Then there’s the training and mentorship that they can provide to younger workers. 

If you want to assess your organization’s attitudes towards aging and create a more supportive environment for 50-plus employees, WiseForce Advisors is here to help. We’ve developed a variety of solutions, including an Age Management Readiness Questionnaire and Corporate Awareness Sessions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at info@wiseforceadvisors.com.