This Chair Rocks

People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. Only 2.5% of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes. Older people enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged. Dementia rates are falling, fast. 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 led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of 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 the book

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.



“Ashton Applewhite is the Malcolm Gladwell of ageism.”
-JAMES BECKFORD SAUNDERS, CEO, Australian Association of Gerontology

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.


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 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

This Chair Rocks is a 2016 Foreword INDIES Winnerin Adult Nonfiction!

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.


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


Readers are encouraged to distribute, remix, and tweak this material! Please credit This Chair Rocks/
Ashton Applewhite

learning from the women's movement's mistakes—and doing better

Here's an excerpt from Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me? How to Start a Consciousness-Raising Group Around the Intersection of Ageism and Sexism (out later this spring from the Old School Clearinghouse). It's about how women with privilege have left other women behind in the struggle for equal rights. We're well into a new century, and at a time of unprecedented potential for social change. It's no surprise that women are leading the movement to dismantle ageism. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors, which are what provoked the emergence of intersectional feminism. In the words disability justice advocate Dr. Angel Love Miles, Intersectionality demands that we work towards the liberation of everyone.”

The women's movement has a troubled history.

Because it focuses on women of reproductive age, the women's movement is ageist. The concept of “sisterhood” is integral to women’s rights, but by definition, sisters are close in age. (An image search under “sisterhood” yields no gray heads.) The practice of dividing the history of feminism into “waves” likewise consigns us to same- rather than mixed-age cohorts, and relegates older participants to the margins.

The women’s movement is also racist, because it has long focused on the interests of white women. Many activists for women’s suffrage were overtly racist, and many supported women’s right to vote as a way to offset the Black vote and bolster white supremacy. The movement has also been homophobic. In the 1970s , it was the failure of the women’s movement to address their issues that compelled Black and queer women to invent and demand intersectional analysis and activism. At the time, Betty Friedan, head of the National Organization of Women, coined the term “lavender menace” to describe the threat posed by outspoken lesbians, claiming their presence would slow progress towards economic and social equality for women.

Class bias has also slowed progress towards women’s liberation. Middle-class white women were instrumental in the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. Tech executive Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to ambitious women to “lean in” ignored structural discrimination: the glass ceiling that keeps the vast majority of women and minorities from reaching their professional potential. Because they benefit from white privilege and the shelter of patriarchy, middle-class white women were instrumental in electing, and attempting to re-elect, an overtly racist president who bragged about degrading and sexually assaulting women. 

Achieving true women’s liberation requires that white women learn to give up those privileges; that we keep in mind the way problems play out differently for different people; and that we aim for remedies that do not come at the expense of other women. The purpose of consciousness-raising is for women to identify experiences that unite us without ignoring our differences. Categories like gender, sexual orientation, class, and ethnicity may set us apart, but they’re also important vehicles for collective identity. The only effective and lasting way to advance equality is through solidarity and collective political action.

Here's how the Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities' website defines solidarity: "Solidarity at its core is about relationships. Solidarity means: we understand and commit to taking responsibility for one another—and that is the radical feminist future we believe in.” Are we willing to expand our circle of relationships? To be brave, and accept risks? That’s how we rise to the challenge posed by the Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities project: “What can we do together?”

Why I want to translate “This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism” into Japanese and publish it in Japan

This guest post is by Keiko Shirokawa, a Tokyo-based senior producer for the German television network Zweites Deutches Fernsehen, who has long focused on anti-authoritarian and environmental justice initiatives. She wrote this letter to help persuade a Japanese publisher to acquire the rights. It worked. I just accepted an offer from Korocolor Publishers, which has hired Keiko to be the translator. Thank you, and hooray!.

In Japan – as in many other parts of the world – tackling issues affecting the aging population, improving public health, bolstering the medical system, and raising citizen’s awareness of health issues are critical, yet daunting, tasks. Concurrently, the elderly are barraged by advertising of commodities aimed at elderly consumers. And when the Japanese government recommended that their citizens not rely on the public pension system, they made it clear that they had abandoned means to address this issue of financial security properly.

The absence of a culture in which one feels comfortable can be tormenting to those who look ahead at an extended life expectancy in this super aging society. Contemporary culture - plays, music, literature - fail to speak to their hearts. In Japan, you can find a few who claim the necessity of studying gerontology, which is something, but these studies remain the subject of academia and scientific research.

In my case, I suddenly re-entered the world of broadcast television news when I was contacted to join a news crew covering the areas hit by the earthquake, tsunami on March 11, 2011, followed by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. I was 63 years old. On that day, I headed to the affected areas where dead bodies could still be found everywhere among the debris. Since that day, I haven’t stopped working for the foreign news agency that hired me then as a news producer. Ten years have passed since I started leading my life in a way so unexpected in Japanese society, and even unexpected to myself. I have been very healthy and competent enough to still keep this demanding job. However, my mind has been full of questions and fears for the many others who are not enjoying such a fulfilling life. And, in my heart, I feel a sense of alienation and isolation in Japanese society because of my age.

Under these circumstances, I came across This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite. Every point in this book seemed to brush away the cobwebs in my mind. I read it in one sitting. I was wondering how to convey these thoughts to Japanese society, which remains sexist as well as ageist. In other words, I was automatically translating it. Anti-ageism should penetrate Japanese society. I decided that the first thing I had to do was to publish a Japanese version of the book. I was unable to find a translated version of it on the market, so I approached a publisher, Korocolor first, whose reaction was very positive. I then sent an e-mail to Ashton Applewhite directly to ask for permission, which she enthusiastically granted.

In the meantime, the #MeToo movement had spread all around the world, and in Japan as well. A man of my generation and an old acquaintance was condemned because of sexual harassment. That led me back to the writings of the 1970s activists such as Betty Friedan. It was while reading her important book, The Fountain of Age, that I found Ashton Applewhite. Her work addressed so many questions that were filling my mind. I returned to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir as well.

I consider this book as a work that could spark an anti-ageism movement literally. At the same time, I see it as being on the vanguard, conveying a new culture for the elderly. I would like a translation of this book to be a first step in the creation of a new culture for the elderly in Japan and to be ready to make a declaration of anti-ageism to Japanese society. Therefore, it would be good to work with the publisher, Korocolor, which has published several in-depth books on the subject of the racism in Japan and has succeeded in reprinting many of them.

Also, in order to fill the inevitable gap existing between two different cultures, I asked Carol Baldwin, who is my best friend and a film producer and runs a community farm in Connecticut, to help fill in the gaps which might otherwise be lost in translation. She kindly accepted my request. The title, “This Chair Rocks,” is a good example to show the difficulty in translation, as a rocking chair is not associated in Japan with the elderly! Our elderly do not use rocking chairs when they rest; ours is not a chair culture.

I am 100% certain that the sexism I have been experiencing since I was born into Japanese society, the discrimination against Asians I was exposed to while living in the UK, and the ageism I am feeling deeply internally and externally these days should function as an ideological foundation to translate Ashton’s words into accurate and strong Japanese words.

Wooooo WHO!

My latest newsletter, announcing a historic event: the launch last week of the World Health Organization's Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, complete with toolkit, video, and gorgeous graphics like this one:

Find them in the Old School Clearinghouse, and read the newsletter for more about what I've been up to.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

March 15, 2021

Link here.

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

March 26, 2020

Link here.

Beating age discrimination

Beating age discrimination

May 1, 2019

Article in The Big Issue

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

March 14, 2019

Article on Books Inc.

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

March 10, 2019

Article in the New York Post

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more


My We Are All Aging talk explains the roots of ageism – in society and in our own age denial – how it divides and diminishes us, and ends with a rousing call to mobilize against it. This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life charts my journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical and proposes an alternative to all the hand-wringing: wake up, cheer up, and push back. Aging While Female, Reimagined describes how the double whammy of ageism and sexism makes aging different for women, and what we can do about it. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and how to reframe the new longevity in order to make the most of longer lives. To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

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, Community Service Society of New York

Where: virtual

When: May 18, 2021 10:00 am

More info: Talk at the Community Service Society of New York's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Details pending.

panel, Aged & Community Services Australia National Summit

Where: virtual

When: May 20, 2021 09:00 am

More info: panel on Ageism with Katie Smith Sloan, President of LeadingAge and an Ingenious Representative from Australia. Details here.

presentation, South African Care Forum

Where: virtual

When: June 1, 2021 09:00 am

More info: The forum is a platform for care providers across South Africa. Details here.

workshop, Area 1 Agency on Aging webinar

Where: virtual

When: June 3, 2021 04:00 pm

More info: Area 1 Agency on Aging hosts “Still Kicking: Confronting the Intersection of Ageism and Ableism in the Pandemic’s Wake”. Free and open to the public. Register here.

keynote, National Service Coordinator Conference

Where: virtual

When: August 25, 2021 01:00 pm

More info: Registration and further information here.

Ageism from the Inside Out and the Outside In

Where: virtual

When: September 21, 2021 12:00 pm

More info:

A conversation between Connie Zweig, author of  The Inner Work of Age, and Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, facilitated by author, ethicist, and gerontologist H. R. (Rick) Moody. Co-hosted by Encore and PSS. Free and open to the public.

talk, Duxbury, MA Senior Center

Where: virtual

When: September 28, 2021 07:00 pm

More info: Details pending.

presentation, MAGIC (Minnesota medical directors) conference

Where: virtual

When: November 5, 2021 08:15 am

More info:

keynote, Financial Planning Association

Where: Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Rd., Lost Pines, TX 78612

When: April 26, 2022 12:00 am

More info: Details pending.


Past Appearances


podcast, The Open Nesters

podcast, The Open Nesters

April 22, 2021

Link here.

interview, Challenging Age-Based Prejudices, with Micheal Pope

interview, Challenging Age-Based Prejudices, with Micheal Pope

April 17, 2021

Link here.

interview, “Normal” wasn’t good for most of humanity

interview, “Normal” wasn’t good for most of humanity

April 7, 2021

Link here.

interview, Why Science Says Your Best Years Are Yet to Come

interview, Why Science Says Your Best Years Are Yet to Come

April 2, 2021

Link here.

article, Who are you calling old? in the Toronto Sun

article, Who are you calling old? in the Toronto Sun

February 27, 2021

Link here.

There’s more


You’ll find many more resources on Old School, a clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted blogs, books, articles, videos, speakers, and other tools (workshops, handouts, curricula etc.) to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it.


On YouTube

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016

Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016

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.


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. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.

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, the New Yorker, 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, the Guardian, 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. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.

I am a founder of the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2019 by Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc.



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