This Chair Rocks

People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. Aging is a natural, lifelong, powerful process. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? That the 20th century’s astonishing leap in life expectancy is a disaster-in-the making? Underlying all the hand-wringing is ageism: discrimination that sidelines and silences older people. So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I have a Q & A blog called Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.

About the Book

Buy it here.

From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial—and how it divides and debases, examines how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of olders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!

Wow. This book totally rocks. It arrived on a day when I was in deep confusion and sadness about my age—62. Everything about it, from my invisibility to my neck. Within four or five wise, passionate pages, I had found insight, illumination and inspiration. I never use the word empower, but this book has empowered me.

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

Along comes Ashton Applewhite with a book we have been waiting for. Anti-ageism now boasts a popular champion, activist, and epigrammatist in the lineage of Martial and Dorothy Parker. Until This Chair Rocks we haven’t had a single compact book that blows up myths seven to a page like fireworks.

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

Vibrant, energetic, fact-filled and funny, This Chair Rocks is a call to arms not just for older people but for our whole society.

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

Sometimes a writer does us all a great favor and switches on a light. Snap! The darkness vanishes and, in its place we find an electric vision of new ways of living. I want to live in a world where ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks illuminates the path.

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

This Chair Rocks is radical, exuberant, and full of all sorts of facts that erase many of the myths and beliefs about late life. As Applewhite defines and describes ageism, new ways of seeing and being in the world emerge, empowering everyone to see things as they really are.

LAURIE ANDERSON, artist

A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging. There’s radical news here to enlighten the most “done” starlet, and
tart turns of phrase to captivate the most expert age critic: ‘All aging is “successful”—not just the sporty version—otherwise you’re dead.’ This pithy primer ought ideally to be given to every American adolescent—to inoculate them against the lies and stereotypes that can spoil the long life course they will all want.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Aged by Culture and the prize-winning Agewise and Declining to Decline

Ashton Applewhite is a visionary whose time has come, tackling one of the most persistent biases of our day with originality, verve, and humor. Her magic formula of naming and shaming may just shake all of us out of complacency and it into action. Whether you relate through being older now or recognize that aging is in your future, this is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.

Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Life Stage Before Midlife

A smart and stirring call to add ageism to the list of ‘isms’ that divide us, and to mobilize against it. Applewhite shows how ageism distorts our view of old age, and urges us to challenge age- based prejudices in ourselves and in society. An important wake-up call for any baby boomer who’s apprehensive about growing old.

Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington and AARP’s Official Love & Relationship Ambassador

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.

AARP

Finally, a take-down of the last acceptable prejudice. Applewhite eloquently and expertly exposes the structural discrimination that makes growing older so much harder than it should be—not just for the white, affluent, healthy, and able-bodied, but for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and poor people. Full of treasures, This Chair Rocks should be required reading for everyone in aging services, to help us confront ageism in our personal and professional lives and join forces against it. As Applewhite writes, ‘It’s time for Age Pride.’ 

Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging

An eloquent and well-researched exposé of the prejudice that feeds age bias, and a passionate argument to mobilize against it. This must-read book is also a fun-read for every age.

Stephanie Coontz, author, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

To live agefully – what a wonderful word! With warmth, wit and clarity, Ashton Applewhite explains what it means, while never falling into age-denial or age-shame. This is a book packed with provocative and liberating ideas, to make you leap into the air with pleasure – even if your knees, like mine, are a little dodgy.

Anne Karpf, author of How to Age


Blog

Guest post: Silicon Valley's unspoken, dirty little secret (hint: it's not what you think)

This post is  by Jessica Orkin, a President oSYPartners, where she helps people see new possibilities – for themselves, for their organizations, for society – and then create the strategy, experiences and platforms needed to support ongoing transformation and behavior change at scale. For the last four years, she has partnered with AARP and its visionary CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins, to challenge outdated beliefs on aging. This post first appeared on Fox News Opinion.

Recent media coverage has begun to highlight the ageism that is prevalent, but largely unacknowledged in Silicon Valley.  Yes, Silicon Valley is ageist. But the truth is, we all are. Even you. Even me. Ageism is one of the last "isms" so embedded into our culture that we rarely recognize it in our daily lives. Every day, we draw conclusions about other generations. Boomer employers want to solve the “Millennial problem.” Millennials want the older folks to get with the new program. My deep desire is to end this generational standoff. It is not doing us any good.  It hurts us personally as we unwittingly limit the things we go after citing our age as a reason. It hurts us as a society as we limit the ingenuity and innovation that comes from age-diverse workplaces. It is time to tap into the value brought by bringing generations together, rather than focusing on the differences that divide us. Consider that a 10-year-old in the U.S. today has a 50 percent chance of living to 104. The implications of this are staggering for how we live, how we learn, and how we work. Ten thousand people in the United States turn 65 every day — and yet, most of the technology and tools at the frontiers of innovation are designed for and by young people. This gap represents a huge opportunity. The tech industry has the opportunity to lead the way by taking on two major blind spots: 1. The value of designing for the entire age spectrum: Human-centered design is great, but let's make sure some of those humans we are designing for are older people. There's money in it. The annual economic activity generated by people 50+ account for $7.6 trillion in the US alone. And, bringing the best of design and technology to edge cases can drive unexpected innovation.  Consider that Oxo Good Grips created an entire market category - high end, stylish, user friendly kitchen gear designed for people with arthritis but used by everyone. 2. The value of the intergenerational workforce: Scott E. Page's research has proven that teams of people with diverse backgrounds find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone. We often consider gender, race, ethnicity as contributing to diversity. But rarely do we include age. Yes, we protect against age discrimination, but we don't yet value age diversity as a thing to strive for. The companies that figure out how to make the most of intergenerational teams will unlock huge competitive advantage. There are more older people, living longer than at any other time in human history. We need more solutions for this new reality. And the first step is to take on our own ageism. I came to this realization at age 40, through my work with AARP and its visionary and straight-talking CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins. She has invited us all to challenge outdated beliefs about aging and to spark solutions so people can choose how they live as they age. This work has changed my life. It has changed how I see age and aging. It has changed how I am parenting my 12-year-old son, as I look ahead to helping him lead a purpose-driven, adaptive, resourceful 100+ year life.

Ten myths about ageing and health, ranked by the World Health Organization

All around the world, people are living longer—a basic hallmark of human progress, and a triumph of public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) is in the public health business, and no organization has done more to raise awareness of ageism—the biggest obstacle to meeting the challenges of population aging and capitalizing on the “longevity dividend.” Part of the WHO’s global anti-ageism campaign  is a new list of ten common “misconceptions on ageing and health.” The global perspective is instructive, and it’s making me rethink some things—including the burning question of whether to start spelling “ageing” the logical, British-and-Indian way.
  1. There is no typical older person.
That would top my list too. Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the sameunderlies all prejudice. Of course stereotypes always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because we all age in different ways and at different rates. As geriatricians put it, “Heterogeneity is the hallmark of ageing.” Or, less formally, “If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old.”
  1. Diversity in older age is not random.
Spoken like a tactful epidemiologist! WHO is pointing out that the playing field is far from level: “The physical and social environments in which we live are powerful influences on Healthy Ageing” and are further shaped by “our sex, our ethnicity, and financial resources.” As I write in the manifesto, “The way we grow old is governed by a whole range of variables, including environment, personality, and genes, compounded by class, gender, race, luck, and the churnings of the global economy—over which we have varying degrees of control.” The effects compound each other and add up over time, which is why the poorest of the poor, all around the world, are old women of color.
  1. Only a small proportion of older people are care dependent.
“Care-dependent” is a great way to put it. I tend to frame this in terms of the high percentage of Americans over 85 who live in nursing homes (10 percent) and who can go about their everyday activities without any personal assistance (over half).  The WHO frames this in economic terms as well, drawing on recent research showing that the contributions of olders in the UK “were worth nearly GBP 40 billion more than expenditure on them through pensions, welfare and health care combined”—a figure set to nearly double by 2030.
  1. Population ageing will increase health-care costs but not by as much as expected.
The notion that older North Americans are an inevitable sink for healthcare dollars is incorrect, and the WHO makes the international case. “In high-income countries, there is growing evidence that at around age 70, health-care expenditure per person falls significantly, with long-term care filling the gap,”the WHO observes, so it makes sense to invest in long-term care. Aging influences health care expenditures far less than other factors, especially expensive medical technologies. Related predictions that “too many old people” will tank the economy—debunked here—are biased, outdated, and just plain wrong.
  1. 70 is not yet the new 60.
I take issue with claims like “60 is the new 40!” because they’re based in denial—60, no matter how active, is still 60—but I’ve been assuming that we’re generally healthier and more vigorous than the generations that preceded us. Not so, says the WHO. Although severe disabilities may be less common, “no significant change in less severe disability has been observed during the past 30 years.”
  1. Good health in older age is not just the absence of disease.
“The combination of a person’s physical and mental capacities (known as intrinsic capacity) is a better predictor of their health and wellbeing than the presence or absence of disease,” notes the WHO, suggesting that we focus on improving intrinsic capacity rather than on specific ailments.  As I write in the book, “While physical decline is inevitable, poor health is not.” People get chronic conditions but we learn to live with them. We find ways to keep doing the things wel love—versions of them, at least. No single age-related condition affects most older people. Some of the oldest of the old live well not by avoiding illness, but despite it.
  1. Families are important but alone cannot provide the care many older people need.
“While families will always play a central role in long-term care, changing demography and social norms mean it is impossible for families alone to meet the needs of care dependent older people,” the WHO points out, calling for training and supporting caregivers and for the government and other sectors to share responsibility. It’s the absence of publicly funded support that turns caregiving into a burden—one that falls largely on women. How about paid family leave and subsidizing care for people of all ages? How about a guaranteed, collective, universal right to long-term care that gives women the same options that men—white men with good jobs, at least— have always enjoyed? How about providing decent wages, health and unemployment insurance, and a path to citizenship to those we pay to do this intimate and important work? Which would allow families to do what they do best: be family instead of nurses and administrators.
  1. Expenditure on older populations is an investment, not a cost.
Programs that help olders stay mobile and functional require funding, but what’s often omitted from the accounting is the cost of not making these investments. “These investments can yield significant dividends, both in the health and well-being of older people and for society as a whole through increased participation, consumption and social cohesion,” says the WHO. Some of the return on investment is direct. For example, better healthcare leads to better health, which saves money, improves lives, and allows people to contribute to what AARP calls the “longevity economy.”  Some is indirect, helping societies protect the human rights of their older members and enabling them to live with dignity.
  1. It’s not all about genes.
“While Healthy Ageing starts at birth with our genetic inheritance, only approximately 25% of the diversity in longevity is explained by genetic factors.” I remember how surprised I was to learn that, from none other than geriatrician Robert Butler, who coined the term “ageism” and founded the National Institute on Aging. “It’s really never too late to reinvent yourself and to invent different health habits. Only about 25 percent of our health appears to be due to genes. Seventy-five percent is environmental or behavior,” Butler told me. That why WHO recommends that policies “address these person-environment interactions across the life course.”
  1. Mandatory retirement ages do not help create jobs for youth.
“Policies enforcing mandatory retirement ages do not help create jobs for youth, but they reduce older workers’ ability to contribute. They also reduce an organization’s opportunities to benefit from the capabilities of older workers,” write the WHO. Indeed: the exchange of skills across generations is the natural order of things, but in much of the developed world age discrimination in the workplace has subverted it. Another false dichotomy is that older workers take jobs away from younger ones. Economists call this the fallacy of the “lump of labor.”When jobs are scarce, this is true in the narrowest sense, but that’s a labor market problem, not a too-many-old-people problem. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts study of employment rates over the last 40 years found rates for younger and older workers to be positively correlated. In other words, as more older workers stayed on the job, the employment rate and number of hours worked also improved for younger people. Want older people to be healthy?  End ageism A growing body of evidence shows that attitudes towards aging have an actual, measurable, physical effect on how we age. People with more positive feelings about aging behave differently from those convinced that growing old means becoming irrelevant or pathetic. They do better on memory tests and are less likely to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. They can walk faster and are more likely to recover fully from severe disability. And they actually live longer—an average of seven and a half years. Everyone agrees that health has the biggest effect on how we age—and how much it costs. Think what a global anti-ageism campaign would do to extend not just lifespan but “healthspan.”  

Envisioning Elderhood—This-Chair-Rocks style

This email came in a few days ago from gerontology professor Elizabeth Bergman, and it made very happy—almost as happy as the video beneath it, which was created by her student, Anne Qu. It's smart and funny all the way through, but I especially loved the part where Qu rearranges photographs of all the people she’s already been—a perfect representation of the book's epigraph: "We contain all the ages we have ever been"—and anticipates the wrinklier incarnations to come. Also, I admit, the scene with the two guys on the sofa talking about the "old guy in the club," which made me laugh out loud.

Hello, Ashton,

I’m writing to tell you how much I appreciate your book. As a gerontology educator at Ithaca College, my primary endeavor is to teach “traditional age” college undergrads about age and the aging process. Most of my students will only ever take one such course in their entire educational career, so I strive to make as much impact as I can in the course of one short semester! I am using This Chair Rocks for the second time this semester in a course I teach called “Age Matters: Discovering the Possibilities beyond Midlife.” Your book is so accessible and my students really connect with your message.

Students conclude the semester with an “Envisioning Elderhood” presentation, in which they reflect on the development of their thinking about age and aging and imagine their own experience of aging. They are given several prompts to which they must respond in the presentation, including how they plan to “Push Back” and how they are an “Old Person in Training.” Here is a link to the presentation created by Annie Qu last semester (she was happy for me to share with you). You’ll see the influence of This Chair Rocks all over it!

AQu Envisioning Elderhood Pres.1 from Ashton Applewhite on Vimeo.

There’s more

Bio

I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, Playboy, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2016. Later that year, I joined the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year.  In 2017 I was invited to speak at TED2017, the mainstage event in Vancouver—a perfect fit with the theme, The Future You.

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more.

Appearances

Part monologue and part consciousness-raiser, This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life is a 40-minute talk that uses stories and statistics to dispel myth after myth about late life. It’s fierce and funny, and it changes the way people envision their futures. (Clip here.) Let’s Rock This Chair: Say No to Ageism is a shorter and more activism-oriented talk that shows how ageism makes aging in America so much harder than it has to be. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and the effects of ageism on women’s lives.

What People Are Saying:

I was encouraged by the statistics you quoted, forced to acknowledge my own ageist thoughts, and ultimately fired up to fight them in myself and others. You are on to something big!

Sarah Meredith, painter

Why can’t we stop ageism? Good question. For some answers, start looking in the mirror and look around you. For a good dialogue on the subject, visit Ashton Applewhite’s website, This Chair Rocks.

Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP

Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.

David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright

This Chair Rocks confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!

Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York

Holistic, deep, urgent, and also fun.

Lenelle Moise, playwright and performer

All practitioners working with older adults need to be informed about the pernicious influences of ageism. Nobody does this better than Ashton Applewhite. Her thinking is deep, her passion infectious, and her cogent message is spot on: we urgently need to have a national conversation about ageism to raise awareness about it and to stop it.

Risa Breckman, LCSW, Executive Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center

You have found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all.

Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News

Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at the 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.

Jean Callahan, Director, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging

Octogenarians are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet most Americans are scared stiff at the prospect of growing old. [Applewhite’s work] is a welcome and important tonic.

Dr. Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coiner of the term “ageism”

We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise and Aged by Culture

A beautifully delivered, provocative description of how ageism clouds our vision of what life holds in store.

Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts

Ashton Applewhite is on a crusade. A journalist and author, her mission is to raise awareness of ageism in America and get people young and old to join her in speaking out against it.

Senior Planet

Thank you again for your terrific keynote yesterday. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!

Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies

Upcoming Appearances

talk at Chatham College

Where: Pittsburgh, PA

When: March 29, 2017 12:00 am

More info:

TED2017 - The Future You

Where: Vancouver, Canada

When: April 27, 2017 12:00 am

More info: The event is sold out; you can watch a few of the week's events on a paid simulcast or wait until TED posts the video at some point during the year, sigh.

Founders Lecture & Luncheon, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Where: Penn State York, York PA

When: May 3, 2017 03:00 pm

More info:

Keynote, Baltimore County Dept. of Aging BCDA Senior Solutions Conference

Where: Hunt Valley Inn, Hunt Valley, MD 21031

When: May 4, 2017 08:30 am

More info:

book talk, Springfield Free Public Library

Where: Springfield Township, NJ

When: May 20, 2017 10:30 am

More info:

Keynote, National Inst. of Senior Centers national conference

Where: Oak Brook, Illinois

When: June 15, 2017 09:00 am

More info:

Conference on Radical Aging

Where: Chattanooga, TN

When: July 12, 2017 12:00 am

More info:

Monadnock Summer Lyceum

Where: Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church, Peterborough, NH

When: August 20, 2017 11:00 am

More info: Monadnock Summer Lyceum "presents world class speakers on social, political, educational, cultural, scientific, economic, environmental and artistic topics." Presentations are free ~ donations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking is available next to the church courtesy of People's United Bank. Reception following the presentations in the Parish Hall.

Past Appearances

Media

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women

March 16, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

February 17, 2017

Link here.

4 Minutes with Ashton Applewhite – The California Health Report

4 Minutes with Ashton Applewhite – The California Health Report

February 13, 2017

Link here.

Busting Ageism: The Life of Ashton Applewhite – Women Over 40 podcast

Busting Ageism: The Life of Ashton Applewhite – Women Over 40 podcast

February 6, 2017

Link here.

Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast

Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast

January 26, 2017

Listen here. The discussion of ageism starts at 36:25; I come on at 41:06.

Ashton Applewhite Responds to the Election

Ashton Applewhite Responds to the Election

December 28, 2016

Listen here.

From 17 to 103: We Asked Disruptors What Their Very Best Year Was

From 17 to 103: We Asked Disruptors What Their Very Best Year Was

December 21, 2016

Read here.

Yo, Is This Ageist? with Ashton Applewhite

Yo, Is This Ageist? with Ashton Applewhite

November 18, 2016

video interview with the Wisdom Factory
Watch here.

Ashton Applewhite: Influencer of the Year: The revolution against ageism begins now

Ashton Applewhite: Influencer of the Year: The revolution against ageism begins now

October 26, 2016

Listen here.

Interview on Gracefully Radio

Interview on Gracefully Radio

October 12, 2016

Listen here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

Who me, ageist? How to start a consciousness-raising group

download PDF here

HelpAge International also makes two guides available:

 

Books

  • Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons by Todd D. Nelson (Boston: MIT Press, 2002)
  • Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  • Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond by Meika Loe. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies by Muriel R. Gillick (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)
  • The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)
  • How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin (New York: Da Capo Press, 2011)
  • How to Age by Anne Karpf (Macmillan, 2014)
  • A Long Bright Future by Laura Carstensen (New York: Broadway Books, 2009)
  • Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging by Margaret Cruikshank (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
  • Look Me In the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (San Francisco: Spinsters Book Company, 1991)
  • Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)
  • The Longevity Revolution by Robert N. Butler (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008)
  • Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2011)
  • Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment by Patricia Barnes (2016)
  • Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life by Bill Thomas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014)
  • Treat Me, Not My Age: A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care as You or a Loved One Gets Older by Mark Lachs (New York: Penguin Books, 2011)
  • Women in Late Life: Critical Perspectives on Gender and Age by Martha Holstein (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

These books helped me understand ageism. You can find a list of the best books on aging compiled by Changing Aging here and another good list compiled by Ronnie Bennett here.

Reports

Links

Video

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016:

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016:

On Vimeo:

On YouTube:

What Is Ageism?

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of. Or “too young;” ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.

Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.

Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the same—underlies ageism (as it does all “isms”). Stereotyping is always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get, the more different from one another we become.

Attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: “just the way it is.” Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.

By blinding us to the benefits of aging and heightening our fears, ageism makes growing older far harder than it has to be. It damages our sense of self, segregates us, diminishes our prospects, and actually shortens lives.

What are the antidotes?

  •    Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. (Download a copy of Who me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness Raising Group.) Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are actually widely shared social problems that require collective action.
  •    Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
  •    Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.

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