This Chair Rocks

Aging isn’t a problem to be solved. Or a disease to be cured. Or something icky that old people do. It’s how we move through life, and more of us are doing more of it than ever before in human history. What stands between us and making the most of these longer lives? Ageism: judging, stereotyping, and discriminating against people on the basis of how old we think they are. Solve for ageism and we also address sexism (aging is gendered), ableism (disability is stigmatized), and racism (which denies multitudes the chance to age at all). 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 speak widely. All efforts to help catalyze a grassroots movement to raise awareness of ageism and how to dismantle it.

About the Book

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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

When author, activist, and presenter Ashton Applewhite entered the scene with the book “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” in 2016, things began to change. The book crystallized decades of careful research on causes, effects, and ways to prevent ageism for a much wider audience, acting as a catalyst to raise the consciousness of people around the world on what ageism is and what we can do to dismantle it.

The Decade of Healthy Aging (a UN + WHO collaboration)


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

Enough with the headlines about age! Not for the reason you think.

Age and age discrimination have never gotten more media coverage, especially in the wake of President Biden’ announcement that he’s running for re-election. If there’s anyone who should be delighted, it’s me. I’m in the age-and ageism business, after all.

Instead, it’s making me mad.

Many of the headlines are alarmist clickbait. (“Biden Would End His Second Term at 86. What Could That Mean for His Brain and Body?) Many of the stories, like that one, which ran the in the New York Times and another that ran in the Wall Street Journal, say little more than what I and countless geriatricians have to say: if you’ve seen one octogenarian, you’ve seen one octogenarian.

There are countless reasons to ignore age when it comes to choosing political candidates. More consequentially, these stories distract us from real issues that actually matter. Climate disasters. The economy. Racism. School shootings. Police brutality. Forced pregnancy. World War III. Why are obsess over age? It’s an ignorant, biased, costly smokescreen.

I have a policy of not following elections until the calendar year in which they take place. Most of the coverage up until then is side-show stuff (and it's a real time-saver). If that’s too much to ask, how about holding the media accountable for the coverage we—and the real issues—deserve? There are so many more important things to think about.

Becoming less ageist can *reverse* cognitive decline.

A growing body of fascinating research shows that attitudes towards aging have an actual, measurable, physical effect on how our minds and bodies function. People with more positive feelings about aging—fact- rather than fear-based, that is—walk faster, heal quicker, live longer, and are less likely to develop dementiaeven if they carry the gene that predisposes them to the disease. Much of the research has been conducted by Yale’s Becca Levy, the author of Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live.  Her latest finding, published on April 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is remarkable: positive age beliefs don’t just help prevent cognitive decline. They can reverse it, and improve memory.

Scientists tracked 1,716 individuals aged 65 and up, for twelve years, to see if they could predict who would experience MCI as well as who was most likely to recover from it. MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) refers to “mild changes in a number of cognitive functions, including memory and attention,” Levy explains. “It’s a performance-based measure, and cut-off points have been established and validated." Participants were tested on how well they performed at various cognitive tasks at different points over the twelve years. People with low scores who felt good about aging were more likely to return to the "normal cognition” range.

Does feeling good about aging seem like a reach? If so, it’s because we live in an ageist culture that barrages us with negative messages about growing old—like the myth that cognitive decline is inevitable. Confronting ageism means changing the culture. That’s why Levy is “very interested in social movements to overcome ageism.” That’s why I do what I do.

Many aspects of aging aren’t under our control, but we can control our attitudes. Unlearning isn’t easy, but it’s free and it’s doable. How about aiming for an accurate understanding of the years ahead—an attitude based on facts rather than fears? Based on an understanding of where the myths and stereotypes come from, and what purpose they serve. Based on the abundant evidence that late life is a time of growth and meaning.

Where to begin?

  • Levy recommends keeping an age belief journal for a week: recording how age is represented on television and in social media and conversations, and whether and how olders are part of the conversation.
  • Noodle around the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse:  hundreds of free resources to educate people about aging and ageism.
  • Read about Levy’s study showing that more accurate age beliefs protect against Alzheimer’s disease.  
  • Check out a 2022 National Poll on Healthy Aging, published on June 15 by JAMA Open Network that linked exposure to “everyday ageism” to higher levels of mental and physical health problems.
  • Reflect on your own attitudes towards age and aging. Ageism harms our health, and we can't challenge bias unless we're aware of it.

If you aspire to a long and healthy life, it’s worth it. Equating aging with disease and decrepitude makes us more vulnerable to exactly what we fear.

A seemingly simple question—"Is the term 'senior abuse prevention' ageist?"— turns out to be a beast.

I hardly ever cross-post questions from my Yo, Is This Ageist? blog here. I’m making an exception because the question below below occasioned such a meaty discussion during this week’s Old School’s Office Hours meetup. It also helped me understand why the phrase “parenting your parents” is unacceptable. Colleague and Office Hours regular David Wilson (@oldscoolmoves) contributed a great deal to this response.

I sit at a table for the “Prevention of Senior Abuse” (I didn’t choose the name). As I was thinking about it, I was wondering if this concept is itself ageist? Does having initiatives directed at preventing abuse of olders equate olders to children? I don’t want anyone to face abuse and I think abuse prevention is a valid undertaking, I just wonder if abuse prevention specifically adressing abuse of olders is actually inherently ageist.

This is a tough one. Like “child abuse,” the term “senior abuse” tethers a life stage to vulnerability. It’s ageist—and ableist—to suggest growing old inherently makes people vulnerable to abuse, and infantilizing to suggest that olders have the same needs as children. Virtually all children require some protections, but the same is not true of all adults. Most older people can recognize what is likely to harm them, are used to having agency, and are reluctant to relinquish it. Furthermore, as geriatrician Louise Aronson writes in Elderhood, a higher level of risk than the one set by institutions and healthcare practitioners is often good for olders.

Yet some developmentally disabled young adults may require the same protections that kids do. The same could be true of older adults who are cognitively impaired. But that does not turn them back into children. In the words of Elizabeth Loewy, when she was the Assistant District Attorney in charge of New York County’s Elder Abuse Unit, “So many people especially when starting in the elder abuse field will compare it to child abuse. And the medical and legal issues are completely different. Individuals who have lived a full life, even if they are impaired, should not be compared to a child.” (This is also what makes the phrase “parenting your parent” unacceptable. Responsibilities may change, but caring for a child is different from caring for an adult. It is condescending, infantilizing, and misleading to equate the two.) Nor is impairment always in play when it comes to preventing abuse. Some olders are vulnerable not because of cognitive issues or physical frailty, but because they’e afraid or unwilling to confront their abusers. 

In other words, it’s really complicated. As you say, abuse prevention is a valid undertaking, and many good people do this difficult, underpaid, and undervalued work. I think “Preventing Abuses of Vulnerable Adults” would be a slightly better name for it, but not by much.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Ageist? Ableist? Who, me?

Ageist? Ableist? Who, me?

January 18, 2023

Link here.

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

June 29, 2021

Link here.

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

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more


My We Are All Aging-Let’s End Ageism talk describes the roots of ageism in society and in our own age denial, how age bias divides and diminishes us, and how to mobilize against it. Age Against the Machine-Ending Ageism in the Workplace explores the false narratives that pit workers at both ends of the spectrum against each other, the costs to both organizations and employees, and how to detect and prevent it. strong>Still Kicking-Confronting Ageism and Ableism in the Pandemic’s Wake looks at how much apprehension about growing older is actually about how our minds and bodies may change (that’s ableism, not ageism), why we have to understand what we’re up against, and how to dismantle these intertwined biases. Aging While Female, Reimagined urges women of all ages to look more generously at each other, and ourselves, and mobilize against the double whammy of ageism and sexism. The Ugly Dance explores how ageism and ableism sanction elder abuse, the “ugly dance” of ageism and ableism, which stand between everyone – especially the most vulnerable among us – and the safe and comfortable old age we all deserve.

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

Ashton Applewhite shows us that a world for all ages is indeed possible if we recognise the potential within each of us, speak truth to power, and stand together as one.

UN Decade of Healthy Ageing

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

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

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”

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

speaker, On Lok, Aging Mastery Program Alumni Talk

Where: virtual

When: June 1, 2023 06:00 pm

More info: Details here. Event is open only to Aging Mastery Alumni.

Opening Keynote, 2023 International Creative Aging Summit.

Where: virtual

When: June 6, 2023 09:15 am

More info: The 3rd annual International Creative Aging Summit will channel the collective energy of more than 250 arts and aging leaders from around the globe towards the profound shifts needed — individually and collectively — to champion and adequately invest in older adults’ creativity and cultural agency. Free and open to the public, but space is limited. Register here.

Inaugural Greengross Lecture

Where: Clore Centre for Education and the Great Court, British Museum, London

When: June 15, 2023 07:00 pm

More info: The first of an an annual lecture event that brings together key thinkers on what the future of ageing means for all of us, in honor of Baroness Sally Greengross, founder of the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC), who died last summer

speaker, #ActivitiesStrong Virtual Summit

Where: virtual

When: June 27, 2023 01:30 pm

More info: Hosted by LinkedSenior, the #ActivitiesStrong Virtual Summit is open and free to the public. Description here;  registration here.


Past Appearances


podcast, Period to Pause Episode 42 Destigmatizing Ageism

podcast, Period to Pause Episode 42 Destigmatizing Ageism

February 23, 2023

Link here.

podcast, Fighting Ageism in the Workplace on We Are Human Leaders

podcast, Fighting Ageism in the Workplace on We Are Human Leaders

February 22, 2023

Link here.

podcast, Talking about our generation

podcast, Talking about our generation

January 31, 2023

Link here.

podcast, Longevity: Cities fit for longer living on Common Ground

podcast, Longevity: Cities fit for longer living on Common Ground

January 30, 2023

Link here.

podcast, Loving Later Life with Nancy Lang Gibbs

podcast, Loving Later Life with Nancy Lang Gibbs

January 2, 2023

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. I regret having written the books, but I wrote them.

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 this 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’ve received numerous awards for my work. The most head-spinning was being named one of “fifty leaders working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older” by the UN’s Decade of Healthy Aging platform (a collaboration between the WHO) in 2022.

The UN credits my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, with “acting as a catalyst to raise the consciousness of people around the world on what ageism is and what we can do to dismantle it.” I self-published the manifesto in 2016 because no mainstream publisher recognized the importance of the issue. I subsequently sold the right to Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc., which published the book on their inaugural list in 2019.

I co-founded the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse. which launched in 2018. We curate, create, and commission free resources to educate people about ageism and how to end it, host meet-ups; and collaborate with other pro-aging organizations around the world. Our goal is to help create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live long and to live well.




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