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.

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

 

“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.

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

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

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


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Ashton Applewhite

More evidence of how ageism affects our mental and physical well-being

Ageism affects how our minds and bodies function, and not in a good way. We’ve known that for a while, thanks in large part to the work of Yale’s Becca Levy, whose groundbreaking work, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live, was published this spring.

So it’s exciting to see new data on the health effects of ageism from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, a survey of 2035 nationally representative Americans ages 50 to 80, published on June 15 by JAMA Open Network. Also, instead of focusing on well-researched contexts like healthcare or the workplace, this study is the first to confirm the near-universal nature of minor but pervasive forms of age discrimination, which the authors refer to as “everyday ageism.” A full 93% of respondents encountered some form of it in their daily lives, such as commercials for anti-aging products, “senior moment” quips, or what the researchers describe as “brief verbal, nonverbal, and environmental indignities that convey hostility, a lack of value, or narrow stereotypes of older adults.”

There’s a word for these derogatory behaviors:  microaggressions—indirect, often unintentional expressions of prejudice. There’s nothing “micro” about their effect on our well-being. Exposure to microagressions is associated with depression, anxiety, lower job satisfaction and poor self-esteem in targeted groups, and older people are no exception. Study participants were asked to assess their health in four ways: overall physical health, overall mental health, number of chronic conditions, and whether they were depressed. The investigators found those with higher “everyday ageism” scores—who reported more exposure to demeaning messages about aging—faced higher health risks on all four measures. Exposure was more common among people from socially and economically disadvantaged groups. 

I’ve written at length about how ageism harms our health, and called for a national anti-ageism campaign to raise awareness of age-based stereotypes and the damage they do. First author of this new study Julie Ober Allen, of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, concurs. Her findings, she writes, suggest that “anti-ageism efforts could be a strategy for promoting older adult health and well-being.” So does the World Health Organization, which launched its superb Global Campaign to Combat Ageism in 2021 with the goal of increasing healthspan along with lifespan. We’ve got that terrific model and we’ve got a growing body of solid scientific evidence. Let’s make it happen.

Guest Post: Lazy Journalism and the Fallacy of Gerontocracy  

Journalist Paul Kleyman has been covering the “age beat” for almost 50 years, and no one is better at it. I’m indebted to his e-newsletter, Generations Beat Online for countless thoughtful analyses of aging-related social and economic policies, and as well as how these stories get covered. In the current issue (29.7) Paul tackles the current outbreak  of major media stories that propose fixing our broken democratic system by replacing older politicians with younger ones.  (This gripe is cyclical; see  my 2019 post, “Here we go again with “too old to be president.”) Here’s his critique, slightly edited, with emphasis added. It’s long. I strongly recommend the whole thing. If you only have time for one sentence, here it is: “Changing the guard from the gray to the dark or ropey blonde locks of youth would not alter the structural templates of power.”

While the hearings of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol have provided the nation riveting testimony guided by RepresentativesBennie Thompson, D-Miss., age 74, and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., 55, there’s been a quieter kind of insurrection in the nation’s capital. It’s a bipartisan tsunami of ageism in politics and national media, conspiring to remove longstanding politicians, not based on their individual competence, but on the peculiar presumption that a sweep of generational replacement will somehow clear the path for positive change in Washington.

The current rash of age-centered political writing fails both in its demographic premise of inevitable stagnation in later life, and in meeting any reasonable standard of journalistic inquiry. One article in particular, in New York Magazine, by Rebecca Traister has received wide media attention. The article ostensibly profiles one individual, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., 88. Although her behavior has prompted justifiable concern for her leadership capability, the piece makes two unsubstantiated leaps.

First, the author jumps from the senator’s apparent confusion and reported memory lapses to speculation that she may have dementia. She states in the article, “It seems clear that Feinstein is mentally compromised, even if she’s not all gone.” Traister’s expert sources, though, are not geropsychiatric authorities, but a link to a newspaper article and a statement by “one person who works in California politics.” 

Provocatively, Traister suggests that Feinstein is declining from an organic brain condition, but offers no medical corroboration or discussion of alternative explanations for the senator’s slow or seemingly distracted comments. Grief, perhaps? Feinstein’s husband died shortly before their  half-hour interview. Gerontologists explain that often temporary memory impairment may follow such losses. The writer, though, doesn’t indicate whether the considered this or alternative explanations.

More disturbingly, the article metastasizes its speculation about Feinstein’s mental health into an attack on the entire body of older political leaders as the principal source of congressional gridlock. Traister, 47, seems to believe that a wave of Harry Potter’s youth wand over Capitol Hill would override the Senate’s 50/50 split and expunge the filibuster, thus setting sorely needed progress in motion. 

‘Dysfunctional’ Age Reporting

Preceding Traister’s grievance against Washington’s immobility, in May major media spotlighted similar charges by Republican éminence grise David Gergen, in his new book, Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders Are Made (Simon & Schuster).  Among his countless national interviews, such as with Walter Isaacson on PBS’s Amanpour & Company, he attributed the dysfunctional divisiveness gripping Washington, once again, to that ill-defined canard, “gerontocracy.” 

Gergen, noting that he recently turned 80, commented in the interview, “I can just see, you lose some of your focus, you lose some of your memory, your brain. It does not bring quite the same way.” He added, “There’s a lot of things that begin to happen to you in your age, and indeed in your 70s that I think the leaders who are in charge today– we shouldn’t be ruled by them going forward.” Revered in the nation’s capital as a stalwart of bipartisanship, having advised presidents of both parties, Gergen pointedly suggested that it’s time for the likes of former President Donald Trump, 76, whom he has long derided, and especially Sen. Feinstein, to make way for “fresh blood.” Most of those mentioned in this segment, though, are graying on the Dem side of the congressional aisle. 

Of course there are capable younger officials in leadership, such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 40, a Democrat. Perhaps, though, Gergen could recommend a worthy younger member of his party who hasn’t been drummed out of the GOP. Or does he have in mind the leadership potential of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., age 48; Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., 40; Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., 36; or Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., 59, an alleged tour guide for the insurrection. 

As someone who just turned 77, I’ll allow that age does matter—but in both directions. Top-gun reflexes may flag, and energy levels noticeably dip, but as much research has shown, one’s ability and drive often recharges with purposeful goals and a little help from one’s friends. As experience kicks in, people compensate for changes and may excel.

Among those Gergen and others believe are candidates for retirement without regard for their mental capacity have been Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 80; and House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 82. These and others anyone might mention are as keen of mind as their voters may want representing them – or want to unseat for their political prowess and experience. What about the chair of powerful Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., 80. Earlier in June, Sanders vigorously challenged GOP establishmentarian, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, 67 in a debate on Fox News, of all networks. Agree with Sanders or not, no one would ever accuse the consistently progressive Sanders of toeing the party line. 

The ‘Silver Tsunami’

In her new bookBreaking the Age Code  (William Morrow/Harper Collins)Yale social psychologistBecca Levy, PhD., observes, “Some politicians, economists and journalists are wringing their hands over what they call ‘the silver tsunami,’ but they’re missing the point. The fact that so many people are getting to experience old age, and doing so in better health, is one of society’s greatest achievements. It’s also an extraordinary opportunity to rethink what it means to grow old.” 

Unlike any other consumer-press book on how to age richer, happier and sexier, Breaking the Age Code is researched-based at every step, often with Levy’s own widely replicated studies over the past quarter century. Most prominently, she has shown that the pervasive negativity about aging, in American culture in areas from media to health care, actually limits people’s health status and longevity. 

Levy’s milestone research, which she presented to the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2002, showed that people who reach late life with positive age beliefs live on average 7.5 years longer those with a dismal view of the years ahead for them. Among her later findings, negative attitudes often can be reversed with measurably positive results. Optimistic research on aging, such as by Levy, or in Tracey Gendron’s new book, Ageism Unmasked  (Steerforth Press/Penguin Random House), do get coverage in feature pages or specialized media. For instance, Gendron’s work, was just featured in a Healthjournalism.org blog). 

Also, Newsweek and other outlets, such as the “Get What’s Yours” blog on Substack, by respected retirement finance writer, Phil Moeller, just wrote up the new study published in JAMA  finding that 93% of a sample of 2000 older Americans said they “regularly  experienced some form of ageism.” The researchers show that continual ageist slights, intended or not, may damage one’s health over time because many people internalize the constant negativity.

But the exciting findings from them or other experts, frequently reported by generations-beat journalists, seldom gets into the top news sections, or on online landing pages. So evidence-based research on aging (and ageism) is easily outshouted in age-biased news or opinion pieces. At the New York Times, for example, although Paula Span’s fine “New Old Age” column  appears biweekly in the “Science Times” section, this story ran on the front page:  “Should Biden Run in 2024? Democratic Whispers of ‘No’ Start to Rise,” by Washington reporters Reid J. Epstein and Jennifer Medina (June 12, 2022). 

The story reads in part, “Interviews with nearly 50 Democratic officials, from county leaders to members of Congress, as well as with disappointed voters who backed Mr. Biden in 2020, reveal a party alarmed about Republicans’ rising strength and extraordinarily pessimistic about an immediate path forward. . . . To nearly all the Democrats interviewed, the president’s age — 79 now, 82 by the time the winner of the 2024 election is inaugurated — is a deep concern about his political viability.’”

Epstein and Medina include this apt defense from David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama: “Biden doesn’t get the credit he deserves for steering the country through the worst of the pandemic, passing historic legislation, pulling the NATO alliance together against Russian aggression and restoring decency and decorum to the White House,’ Mr. Axelrod added. ‘And part of the reason he doesn’t is performative. He looks his age and isn’t as agile in front of a camera as he once was, and this has fed a narrative about competence that isn’t rooted in reality.’” White House coverage does show him handling a grueling global workload without the record number of tee-times logged in by his predecessor.

The bulk of the article quotes reactions to Biden’s age ... [from various people calling for] “a younger person” and “fresh, bold leadership.” The Times article defaults to what social scientists call “the fundamental attribution error,” as Yale’s Becca Levy put it in her book “The popular narrative of aging as a time of inevitable mental and physical decline is incorrect,” Levy writes. She adds, “This line of thinking gets cause and effect mixed up.”

OK, Boomer Basher

A more plainly prejudicial piece is“Why Are We Still Governed by Baby Boomers and the Remarkably Old?” by Yuval Levin (June 13, 2022). One would expect a conservative viewpoint from someone like Levin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular NYT Opinion contributor. But why do the editors allow such prime space for writing critically of people based on their demographic category while providing no factual basis for its assertion of fated decline with years?

Levin’s article begins, “America’s top political leaders are remarkably old. It then itemizes the ages of people in key federal leadership roles. Would the Times run a comparable essay if it opened, instead, “America’s top political leaders are remarkably ethnic”?  Arguing that there’s poor age balance among top government leadership, Levin, 45, particularly champions more inclusion of Gen Xers. Perhaps, he’s too embarrassed to mention the waffling over Trump’s Big Lie by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., 57. Levin declares, “Middle-aged leadership may be exactly what we now require.” How about January 6 rally speaker Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 58? Not who he had in mind? What other qualifications might Levin and his conservative thinktank colleagues like to see in charge?

Rebecca Traister’s profile of Sen. Feinstein so excited mainstream media colleagues, that Time’s liberal columnist Jamelle Bouie devoted his June 14 entry to her story, headlined, “The Gerontocracy of the Democratic Party Doesn’t Understand That We’re at the Brink.”  Her article also garnered effusive praise at CNN and a lengthy interview by Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s All Things Considered (“Why a phone conversation with Sen. Feinstein Worried This Reporter” (June 13, 2022). 

Raising longstanding Washington concern over congressional seniority rules, Traister told Kelly, “The Senate works by offering increased power to those who’ve been there for the longest. It’s not necessarily just individuals who want to stay and increase their own authority. It also is an enticement for the states that wind up electing them and reelecting them,” as those officials deliver increasing appropriations back home. Traister, though, did not pursue that promising direction, such as by delving into an analysis of rules and policies that tend to cement certain people as decisionmakers. Instead, she descended into a generational smear. Her article fails to demonstrate persuasively the functional, operational harm that younger leaders or a more age diverse leadership would moderate.

Traister commented to Kelly, “Diane Feinstein is not alone. We are run by a gerontocracy on both the Democratic and Republican sides.” That is, journalists from at least two major news organizations failed to question the writer’s leap from a specific critique of one person to a sweeping indictment of the political system based entirely on age. If merely eliminating people of a certain age would curtail the entrenchment of misguided policies, what about Rep. Elise StefanikR-NY, 37. A Trump supporters who embraces conspiracy theories and voted against confirming President Biden after personally witnessing the January 6 attack, she remains on a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, which Congress chartered to promote democracy around the world.

In her article, Traister wrote, “But the fact that many of her colleagues, on their best days, are less acute than Feinstein on her worst is exactly the kind of dismal, institutionally warped logic that has left us governed by eldercrats who will not live long enough to have to deal with the consequences of  their failures.” Some people, at least, resonate more with the story of an elder who was asked why he bothered to plant an acorn for a tree he’d not live to enjoy. He replied, “So that my grandchildren will someday think of me as they sit in its shade.”

One who has famously said she’d like to retire is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As a nonpartisan San Francisco voter who has taken many issues with her leadership over the years, I’ve not been alone in feeling grateful that Pelosi has been at the helm through the passage of the Affordable Care Act, two impeachments, pandemic relief and more. Even her toughest detractors can’t deny her legislative skill, and, I’ll add, her moral integrity.

A Journalist’s Non-Diagnosis

I’ve also had the chore of deciding whether or not to mark my ballot for Feinstein since her years on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisor. Traister’s review of the senator’s dogged liberalism is often astute. But nothing in the article justifies her crossing into speculation that Feinstein’s slow responses and apparent memory lapses result from “dementia,” even after she disingenuously told Kelly, “I’m not in a position to diagnose here.” Many San Francisco voters would share Traister’s dismay over how out of touch the senator can be, but that sentiment goes back for decades, as it would the constituents of many long-time politicians. 

Traister was particularly appalled by Feinstein’s compliments to Sen. Graham, after he championed the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Appallingly fawning but was that any more than standard political collegiality for a friendly face across the aisle. Remember how the diametrically opposed judicial forces of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg bonded in friendship at the opera? 

The writer told NPR’s Kelly how Feinstein’s “sunny and impervious optimism about the progress that’s being made” in their half-hour interview “betrayed a kind of disconnection from our current circumstances.” Or, perhaps, a wary official was merely parsing her words in a short interview with a reporter. Only last week President Biden spoke of his “optimism for the future.” That’s what politicians do. Reporters may judge, but a mental-health evaluation requires evidence Traister’s piece fails to verify.

By What Standard?

However prejudicial (and lazy) the ill-applied language of “gerontocracy” may be, these journalists have yet to provide a meaningful examination of the deep and self-perpetuating flaws in the US political system in ways pointing to solutions. Changing the guard from the gray to the dark or ropey blonde locks of youth would not alter the structural templates of power. 

Writers as capable as Traister, Bouie, Epstein, Medina, and especially the journalist-historian Isaacson, are likely aware of political science and organizational theories of congressional structure that may suggest at least some realistic approaches for restraining perverse incentives while also optimizing democratic engagement. What questions might good political writers and editors ask about the basic standards of integrity for evaluating office holders and seekers? Beyond the obvious, such as investigating corruption, what essential questions should media entities frame in assessing the effectiveness of individual political actors or decisional bodies? 

What list of functional questions might prompt writers toward second thoughts that might turn a cooler eye on their own emotional responses? For example, I’ve often consulted guidelines in judging reporting competitions and either elevated or reduced my initial level of enthusiasm for an entry when nudged to think more objectively about a proposal’s reach and impact. Regarding politics, at the outset, I suggest borrowing from Hippocrates with: “First, do no harm.” 

One guideline I’ve long kept in mind was recommended by the late editor and publisher Robert Maynard, namesake of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. He urged reporters to view every story through the spectrum of class, race, gender, geography and generation. (I’d add religion.) What other standards of conduct and social impact might fairly swab the nostrils of politicians to determine whether their rules or operations need to be vaccinated for our political health? 

Fifty years ago this summer, I began writing my book, Senior Power: Growing Old Rebelliously (Glide,1974) on the politics of aging. While I’ve seen considerable advances on racism and sexism–including exposures of underlying prejudice–I’ve been amazed and, with deepening sighs, dismayed about the many permutations of bias toward people strictly based on their age. It’s nothing less than scapegoating. What’s worse is that facile blaming obviates honest queries into problems that might lead to a genuine understanding of society’s problems, such as entrenchment that regiments people, lockstep in the wrong direction, regardless of their demographic identities. It’s the job of journalism to peel back the superficial, the opaque, the skin-deep distractions to expose the sinew of our problems. How else might real solutions be exposed to light?

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: it’s a thing. It shouldn’t have to be.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which was launched in 2006, falls on June 15th. That happens to be my mother’s birthday, which I find darkly amusing and which probably has something to do with my ambivalence around the event. It’s terrific that World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a thing. It’s awful that it has to be.

Every year an estimated one in ten Americans over age 60—over seven million people in the US alone—experiences some form of abuse. (This can take many forms—financial, emotional, physical, or sexual—as well as exploitation and neglect.) Those numbers were undoubtedly worsened by extreme isolation during the main COVID19 pandemic. We’ve also seen a chilling increase in hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans, many of whom have been older.

A staggering 95% of elder abuse cases go undetected. Nonetheless, unlike domestic violence or child abuse, we don’t talk about it much. Neither do many victims, who are embarrassed by their vulnerability, ashamed to ask for help, and—worst of all—think they may not deserve it. Over half of abusers are family members, which doesn’t make it legal but does make it harder to report.

What else underlies these appalling statistics? Ignorance and aversion on the part of the general public. Raised to value youth and speed, we grossly underestimate the quality of life of older people, as well as its value. We project our fears. We turn away, reluctant to acknowledge that we, too, are aging and some impairment awaits us all. And when we see people as “other” than ourselves, their welfare seems less of a human right.

Ageism (discrimination on the basis of age) is a new idea to lots of people. Many are even less familiar with ableism—discrimination on the basis of how our brains or bodies function. Ageism and ableism underlie the belief that being non-disabled is “normal” and that leading meaningful, desirable lives means staying youthful and disability-free. These prejudices inform and compound each other, the “ugly dance” to which the title of my new talk refers: “The Ugly Dance How Ageism and Ableism Enable Abuse.” (For the full description of the talk, and/or to hire me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.)

Ageism and ableism stand between everyone—especially the most vulnerable among us—and the safe and comfortable old age we all deserve. We have the skills and the tools to disrupt this dance. In a world of longer lives, we can’t afford not to

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

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

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

March 14, 2019

Article on Books Inc.

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

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

presentation to Tag Americas

Where: virtual

When: August 25, 2022 02:00 pm

More info: I'll join an age-diverse panel of Tag Americas employees to share insights, challenge assumptions, and reframe how we think about age in the workplace and beyond.

guest on When Ageism and Womanhood Collide

Where: virtual

When: August 25, 2022 09:30 pm

More info: Special guest on Sundae Schneider-Bean's Wisdom Fusion Project. Register here for live event.

speaker, Secure Senior Connections, What's the harm in ageism?

Where: virtual

When: September 19, 2022 01:00 pm

More info: Live zoom. Details pending.

keynote, California Master Plan for Aging statewide convening

Where: Sacramento, CA

When: September 20, 2022 12:00 am

More info: My talk will be followed by a conversation with California Governor Gavin Newsom about the intersection of ageism, ableism, and racism. Free and open to the public. Register here.

keynote, Marin Aging Action Initiative annual convening

Where: San Rafael, CA

When: September 29, 2022 09:30 am

More info: Details pending here.

webinar, British Standards Institution

Where: virtual

When: October 3, 2022 08:30 am

More info:

speaker, National Congress of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Chile

Where: virtual

When: October 7, 2022 08:30 am

More info: XXVI National Congress of Geriatrics and Gerontology: Aging in Chile: Global changes and local challenges. Details here.

Course instruction, OLLI at UVA

Where: virtual

When: October 8, 2022 01:00 pm

More info: Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at University of Virginia (UVA). Details pending here.

keynote, Medical Group Management Association annual conference

Where: Boston, MA

When: October 11, 2022 11:00 am

More info: The event convenes administrative, clinical and business leaders of medical groups in America who are stewards for care giving organizations across the US.

keynote, Optum/United Health Group

Where: virtual

When: October 12, 2022 11:00 am

More info:

talk, Inspir Senior Residence

Where: NY, NY

When: October 13, 2022 04:00 pm

More info: Details pending

speaker, Sage-ing International program

Where: virtual

When: October 18, 2022 11:30 am

More info: Details here.

Advocacy webinar for RTOERO

Where: virtual

When: October 19, 2022 01:00 pm

More info: RTOERO is Canada's largest provider of non-profit group health insurance for retired education-sector workers

keynote, This is Long Term Care, Ontario Long-Term Care Association

Where: Virtual

When: October 24, 2022 09:30 am

More info: The Ontario Long-Term Care Association represents almost 70% of the province's long-term care homes.

Ageism from the Inside Out and from the Outside In

Where: virtual

When: October 24, 2022 11:00 am

More info: A conversation with Dr. Connie Zweig, who discusses how to break free of our unconscious "inner ageist" in her most recent book, The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul. Connie and I will explore why a world of longer lives calls for both inner work and social activism. Sponsored by Humanity Rising, an online, daily, international broadcast. Free and open to the public. Register here for links to each day's event.

talk, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Where: McKnight Auditorium

When: October 25, 2022 06:00 pm

More info: Ashton Applewhite will discuss "Ageism: The Overlooked Intersection." The event is sponsored by the UNC Charlotte Office of Diversity and Inclusion, UNC Charlotte Gerontology Program, Centralina Area Agency on Aging, Southminster, Gamma Psi chapter of Sigma Phi Omega, UNC Charlotte Department of Sociology, UNC Charlotte Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, and UNC Wilmington College of Health & Human Services.  Open to the public; details here.

presentation, Central Asia Nobel Fest Live

Where: virtual.

When: October 28, 2022 08:00 am

More info:

Nobel Fest unites more than 500k participants, and 500 universities from 155 states. The event is hosted in a hybrid format from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, China, and Germany and broadcasted online. Details pending.

Q&A with the Nashua Public Library

Where: virtual

When: November 2, 2022 03:30 pm

More info: Program starts at 3:30 with videos and discussion; I'll come on at 4:15.  Free and open to the public; link to come.

speaker, The Transitional Network NYC

Where: virtual

When: November 17, 2022 06:00 pm

More info: TTN-NYC's Third Thursday event. Details pending

speaker, RiverWoods Exeter

Where: virtual

When: January 24, 2023 12:00 am

More info: Details pending.

ASA Aging in America Conference 2023

Where: Atlanta Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, Georgia

When: March 27, 2023 12:00 am

More info:

ASA Expert Panel and Book Signing with Tracey Gendron.  Details to come.

 

Past Appearances

Media

webinar, UN DESA for International Youth Day

webinar, UN DESA for International Youth Day

August 11, 2022

Link here.

podcast, Top of Mind with Julie Rose on BYU Radio

podcast, Top of Mind with Julie Rose on BYU Radio

July 4, 2022

Link here.

podcast, The You Project with Craig Harper

podcast, The You Project with Craig Harper

June 24, 2022

Link here.

podcast on “Work After 50”, Stanford Longevity Center

podcast on “Work After 50”, Stanford Longevity Center

June 8, 2022

Link here

podcast, We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle

podcast, We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle

March 24, 2022

Link here.

There’s more

Resources



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.

Video

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.

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. 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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