This Chair Rocks

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

About the Book

Buy it here.

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

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

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

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

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

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

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

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

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

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

LAURIE ANDERSON, artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.

AARP

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

Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging

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

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

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

Anne Karpf, author of How to Age


Blog

If aging is so awful, how come no one wants to be younger?

You hear people say, “I wish I were young again,” all the time. Yet I’ve never met anyone who would actually choose to move their game piece back on the board unless they could transport their present-day consciousness along with it. No one actually wants to be younger, despite a lifetime of being bombarded by messages that old = awful and it’s all going to suck. Even the most frightened and unenlightened know otherwise: that despite the inevitable loss of cartilage and comrades, aging is different—and way better—than the way it’s portrayed in the culture. That is powerful fodder for a movement to end ageism.

Imagine less fear: have the things you dreaded come to pass? Imagine more awareness: understanding that appeals to look or act “younger” are bigotry. Imagine learning these things earlier in life, so the generations that follow are liberated from needless dread. Imagine coming together at all ages to make it happen.

Guest post: "There is no justification for hiring based on age stereotypes."

This post consists of career civil rights lawyer Laurie McCann’s written testimony before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on May 16, 2016.  McCann is Senior Attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation, which she represents on a broad range of age discrimination and other employment issues, and a noted speaker on issues related to an older work force. The footnotes are useful too.

Chair Yang, Commissioners Barker, Feldblum, Lipnic and Burrows, thank you for inviting AARP to discuss the issue of diversity in the technology industry and in particular the problem of age discrimination. On behalf of our more than 37 million members and workers age 40 and older who constitute roughly 55 percent of the labor force, AARP appreciates this chance to share our views at today's Commission meeting. We welcome the opportunity to work further with the Commission as its work proceeds.

Age Discrimination is Pervasive in the Tech Industry

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), ageism, unfortunately, remains pervasive in the American labor force. In a 2013 AARP study, nearly two-thirds of older workers reported witnessing or experiencing age discrimination in the workplace.1 Of those, 92 percent said such discrimination was very or somewhat common.2 It would appear that age discrimination is very prevalent in the technology sector of the economy. According to a recent Fortune magazine article,3 the median age of employees at Twitter is just 28, and at Facebook and Google, the median age is 29. When compared to a median age of 42 for the workforce overall, the message is stark - older workers are persona non grata in technology.

While those statistics are stunning, the most amazing fact is that the industry is so unapologetic about it. Rather than try to hide or explain away the lack of age diversity in the sector, they boast about it. For example, in 2011, Vinod Khosia, co-founder of Sun Microsystems declared, ". . .people under 35 are the people who make change happen; people over the age of 45 basically die in terms of new ideas."4 In his New Republic article about ageism in the tech sector, Scheiber quoted Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist with Sequoia Capital, who unabashedly stated that he was "an incredibly enthusiastic fan of very talented twentysomethings" because they "have great passion" and "don't have distractions like . . . children."5 Scheiber also reported that the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara-based IT services company declared prominently on its website's careers page that "We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them." And, perhaps the most cited and the most telling comment came from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2007: "Young people are just smarter."6

As Bill Maher recently commented, "Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice in America."7 If these remarks are any indication, nowhere is that more true than in the technology industry.

The rampant age discrimination in the technology sector is perhaps most evident in companies' hiring policies and practices, which are designed to attract and hire younger employees. Job postings declaring a preference for new or recent graduates are common and some companies have actually specified which graduating class they are seeking.8 For example, in 2013, Facebook settled a case with the California Fair Employment and Housing Department concerning a job listing for an attorney position that noted, "Class of 2007 or 2008 preferred."9 More recently, many employers have started to require job candidates to be "digital natives." A digital native is an individual who grew up using technology from an early age whereas a "digital immigrant" refers to someone who adopted technology later in life. This distinction is clearly age-based and can be used to screen out older applicants.10 To date, however, the practice has not been challenged in court.

Many online applications also can screen out older applicants. Some require applicants to include dates of birth or graduation dates in fields that cannot be bypassed. In other words, the applicant cannot submit the application with answering the questions. These practices deter older individuals from applying as many will wonder why they should bother trying when their age will be obvious to the employer. Some companies even go so far as to require potential employees to be affiliated with a college or university in order to submit an application.11 These practices prevent older individuals from applying or at the very least deter them from applying. They also color hiring managers' perceptions of candidates and cause employers to select from an unrepresentative pool of applicants with disproportionately fewer older applicants.

There is no justification for hiring based on age stereotypes. Hiring should be inclusive and should focus on the job skills needed for the specific position. Employers need to focus on skill sets and qualifications, not solely on demographics. While employers should be able to employ candidates that they consider to be a good fit, they must not let industry and personal stereotypes influence their hiring decisions and recruiting strategies. They should not assume older workers won't be able to "fit in" with younger colleagues. They should not presume that older workers learned their skills years ago and have been simply coasting ever since. Older engineers and programmers are often up on the latest technology, and what they don't know they can quickly learn. They should not presume older workers are not creative or innovative; in fact, studies show that workers can be equally or more innovative as they get older.12

If an older employee is able to find employment in the industry, they are still not home free. Instead, discrimination can take other forms including layoffs, and fewer opportunities for advancement and professional development, which then increases older workers' vulnerability to layoffs. In 2004, Brian Reid, then 52-years-old, alleged that he lost his job at Google because of his age. He was called a poor cultural fit, an "old guy" and a "fuddy duddy with ideas too old to matter." The case was ultimately resolved out of court after the California Supreme Court refused to consider these comments "stray remarks" and instead held that the comments, if actually made, were evidence of discrimination. AARP filed an amicus curiae brief in this case. Google was sued again recently for age discrimination in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.13 Apparently, there is still a problem. One tech industry survivor, Dan Lyons, has recently recounted his experiences as an older employee working for the software company, HubSpot. 14 Lyons was 52-years-old and the average HubSpot employee was 26. But, the most telling fact was that this age imbalance was intentional. In an interview with the New York Times, HubSpot's CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan announced that he was "trying to build a culture [at HubSpot] specifically to attract and retain Gen Y'ers," because, "in the tech world, gray hair and experience are really overrated."15

Barriers to Redress Age Discrimination in Hiring

Given the ADEA's clear directive that it is unlawful to fail to hire an individual because of their age, why is age discrimination in hiring so prevalent? There are many obstacles to challenging hiring discrimination, and applicants, especially those among the long-term unemployed, are more focused on their primary concern - finding employment.

Hiring discrimination is notoriously difficult to challenge because it is difficult to detect. Jobseekers lack sufficient information about a company's hiring processes and the relative qualifications of their competition to confidently suspect a potential claim. They may have a "gut feeling" or "hunch" that their age is preventing them from finding employment but that is not enough to establish discrimination, and filing a complaint takes time and energy away from the primary task at hand: finding a job.

Even easily detected forms of bias, such as that found in job postings that specify age-related requirements, often deter older job-seekers from applying, but go unchallenged. Only a miniscule number of charges - only 15416 of 20,14417 age discrimination charges in fiscal year 2015 - alleged unlawful advertising. Current regulations governing employment advertisements and pre-employment inquiries18 are weak, and so do little to deter improper employer behavior and protect the rights of older workers.

Another barrier to addressing hiring discrimination is that although the disparate impact theory is often the best - if not the only - means of challenging such discrimination, employers are mounting an offensive to convince the courts that job applicants may not bring disparate impact claims under section 4(a)(2), 29 U.S.C. 623 (a)(2) of the ADEA. There are already two decisions supporting this position - Kleber v. CareFusion, Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 157645 (Nov. 23, 2015, N.D. Ill) and Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30018 (Mar. 6, 2013, N.D. Ga) - although the Villarreal case is under en banc review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Both AARP and the EEOC have supported the Villarreal plaintiffs with amicus briefs. Clarity that applicants may bring disparate impact claims under section 4(a)(2) will be crucial in combatting some of the most pernicious hiring practices such as maximum hiring ages and exclusively on campus recruiting.

Companies - even Tech Companies - Benefit from Age Diversity and Having an Intergenerational Workforce

Technology firms that ignore the talents of older workers are doing themselves a disservice. Age is positively correlated with engagement -- the 50+ segment is the most engaged across all generations19 -- and engagement is positively correlated with higher productivity and higher revenues.20 And contrary to common perceptions, 50+ talent does not cost significantly more than younger workers. Changes in wage structures and benefits offerings have significantly diminished differences in compensation costs for older and younger workers. Marginally higher costs to recruit and retain older workers are offset by lower and more predictable turnover, as well as added knowledge and experience.21

Unfortunately, however, few companies include an age component in their diversity programs and all too often, perversely, companies justify their age-discriminatory practices on the need to bring more diverse candidates from other protected groups. Moreover, employers are not required by federal law to include age in diversity reports. This makes it difficult for them to self-examine their policies and practices for discrimination based on age and makes it difficult for victims to establish age discrimination as well. The high-tech industry would benefit from taking steps to examine its performance on achieving an intergenerational workforce, and to take steps to correct any shortcomings uncovered, such as by incorporating age diversity into its diversity practices.

Conclusion

A few years ago, when the EEOC District Offices in California were developing their Complement Plans to the national strategic enforcement plan, AARP's California state office submitted comments urging particular attention to hiring issues, including age-related job postings and application procedures, and urged the Commission to pay particular attention to problem industries such as Silicon Valley.22 AARP is pleased that the EEOC is including age diversity in its examination of inclusiveness in the high tech industry, and stands ready to be of assistance in addressing this serious and pernicious problem. Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in today's discussion.

Footnotes

1 AARP, Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study, Older Workers in an Uneasy Job Market 28 (January, 2014), available at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/general/2014/Staying-Ahead-of-the-Curve-2013-The-Work-and-Career-Study-AARP-res-gen.pdf

2 Id., at 30.

3 Verne Kopytoff, "Tech Industry Job Ads: Older Workers Need Not Apply," Fortune (June 19, 2014), available at http://fortune.com/2014/06/19/tech-job-ads-discrimination/ [hereinafter Tech Industry Job Ads].

4 Vivek Wadha, "The Case for Old Entrepreneurs," Washington Post (Dec. 2, 2011), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-innovations/the-case-for-old-entrepreneurs/2011/12/02/gIQAulJ3KO_story.html.

5 Noam Scheiber, "The Brutal Ageism of Tech," New Republic, (March 23, 2014), available at https://newrepublic.com/article/117088/silicons-valleys-brutal-ageism.

6 Andrew S. Ross, "In Silicon Valley, Age Can Be a Curse," SFGate (Aug. 20, 2013), available at www.sfgate.com/business/bottomline/article/In-Silicon-Valley-age-can-be-a-curse-4742365.php.

7 Josh Feldman, "Maher Rants against Youth Culture, Ageism: 'Last Acceptable Prejudice'" (Nov. 7, 2104), available at http://www.mediaite.com/tv/maher-ageism-is-the-last-acceptable-prejudice-in-america/.

8 Tech Industry Job Ads, supra n. 3.

9 Id.

10 Vivian Giang, "This Is the Latest Way Employers Mask Age Bias, Lawyers Say," Fortune (May 4, 2015), available at http://fortune.com/2015/05/04/digital-native-employers-bias/.

11 See e.g., Complaint in Rabin v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 3:16-cv-02276-JST (filed Apr. 27, 2016, N.D. Calif.).

12 Stefan Theil, "Innovation Grows among Older Workers," Newsweek (Aug. 20, 2010), available at http://www.newsweek.com/innovation-grows-among-older-workers-71363.

13 The complaint in Heath v. Google, Inc., 5:15-cv-01824-HRL (filed Apr. 22, 2015, N.D. Calif.), alleges that the company violates the ADEA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) through its hiring and employment practices.

14 Dan Lyons, "When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don't Even Bother to Lie," LinkedIn.com (Apr. 5, 2016), available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-comes-age-bias-tech-companies-dont-even-bother-lie-dan-lyons.

15 Adam Bryant, "Brian Halligan, Chief of HubSpot, on the Value of Naps," New York Times (Dec. 5, 2013), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/business/brian-halligan-chief-of-hubspot-on-the-value-of-naps.html?_r=0.

16 EEOC, Charge Statistics, Statutes by Issue: FY 2010 - FY 2015, available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/statutes_by_issue.cfm.

17 EEOC, Charge Statistics: FY 1997 Through FY 2015, available at https://www.eeoc.gov//eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm.

18 29 C.F.R. §§ 1625.4 and 1625.5.

19 AARP, A Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience 2 (2015), available at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/general/2015/A-Business-Case-Report-for-Workers%20Age%2050Plus-res-gen.pdf.

20 Id., at 18-19.

21 Id., at 46.

22 Letter from Katie Hirning, [then] State Director, AARP California, to EEOC Los Angeles and San Francisco District Offices, re: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Local Complement Plans to National Strategic Enforcement Plan (Feb. 27, 2013) (on file with AARP).

 

Let’s get intergenerational

A century ago Americans didn’t need programs to connect the generations: homes and communities housed people of all ages. But as people started living longer and moving into cities, we started thinking differently about people at both ends of the age spectrum. Schooling became mandatory, child labor was outlawed, and Social Security and Medicare made a secure retirement possible for millions. The benefits were significant, but so was the downside: the natural order of things was subverted, and the generations lost contact. Our society is now acutely age-segregated.

What’s the harm?  According to I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together, a terrific new report from Generations United & the Eisner Foundation, age segregation:

  • Gives rise to ageism.
  • Makes social solidarity more elusive.
  • Perpetuates racial, ethnic, and political divides.
  • Wastes taxpayer money
  • Denies old and young crucial opportunities to learn from and help one another.

I’m glad to see ageism top the list, and I’m excited the way initiatives to connect the generations are cropping up. Generations United has been at this a lot longer than I have, although I learned about their work early on in this project, when Executive Director Donna Butts spoke at a seminar for journalists in 2008. “Thomas Jefferson said the web of relationships between generations is essential to civil society,” she said. “Why do we keep trying to unweave that web? Because it’s easy to default to intergenerational conflict mode than to deal with the real problems.”

What role does age segregation play? If the generations have little opportunity to get to know each other, it’s easier for “us vs. them” ways of thinking to get a foothold.  Zero-sum reasoning doesn’t just distract us from the underlying issues and pit us against each other. It’s unethical. We know it’s not OK to allocate resources by race or by sex, so why should it be acceptable to weigh the needs of the young against the old? Look, for example, at the way generational revenge is being invoked to marshal the youth vote in the upcoming UK General Election. Or how the latest Republican budget is being framed as benefiting olders at the expense of the poor—as if no poor people were old and Social Security didn’t buttress millions of families. In nearly half of those families, grandparents are helping raise grandchildren.  That’s according to a 2016 survey by Encore.org, which found that Americans have little appetite for a “generation war” and view intergenerational interdependence as a source of unity and mutual benefit—especially in these difficult and divisive times.

The synergies are obvious, especially as the number of Americans over 65 swells. Many are keenly interested in supporting and guiding those who come next. “Why not match talent with need, tap experience for youth, connect supply with demand? Why not activate this solution hidden in plain sight?” asks Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore, which launched the Generation to Generation campaign last November to mobilize a million people over age 50 “to help young people thrive and unite all ages to create a better future.”

Another indicator of more cross-generational thinking?  The emergence of “all-age-friendly” (as opposed to “age-friendly”) community-planning initiatives is. As this smart post about the "All-Age-Friendly City” observes, “building trust between generations” is key to creating safe, green, accessible, communitarian living spaces. Here’s an actual sign, the name of a joint healthy aging initiative in South Orange and Maplewood, NJ, where I spoke last Thursday.

And here’s a list of intergenerational programs in healthcare, infrastructure, and education.

Remember the old brain teaser about the man and his son who are in a bad car accident? The father dies and the son is rushed to the hospital. The doctor on duty blanches and says, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!” Who is the doctor? Answer: the boy’s mother. Women doctors aren’t rare any more, but this stumped me when I was a kid. Fast forward to last summer, when two friends of my daughter Morgan struck up a conversation with my friend Cory in a B&B upstate—all hip NYC lesbians in their early 30’s, as it happens. Morgan’s friends figured out the connection, but not without a jolt of surprise when they realized that it was through me, Morgan’s mom. That’s because it’s so unusual to be friends with people more than 10 years older or younger than ourselves. Won’t it be great when such friendships are as ordinary as women doctors?  That’s the world all these great programs are working to bring about.

 

There’s more

Bio

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

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

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

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more.

Appearances

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

keynote, Embrace Aging Forum

Where: Chattanooga, TN

When: July 13, 2017 09:30 am

More info: Link here.

keynote, Pioneer Network Annual Conference

Where:

When: August 2, 2017 12:00 pm

More info: Hyatt Regency Hotel, O'Hare Airport, Chicago, IL. Register here.

Organized Acts of Kindness - OAKS event

Where: Colonial Theatre, Bethlehem, NH

When: August 18, 2017 06:00 pm

More info:

Monadnock Summer Lyceum

Where: Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church, Peterborough, NH

When: August 20, 2017 11:00 am

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

plenary, Florida Council on Aging Annual Conference

Where: Caribe Royale Hotel, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando, FL

When: August 28, 2017 12:30 pm

More info: Register here.

keynote, National Investment Center fall conference

Where: Loews Hotel, 455 North Park Drive, Chicago, IL

When: September 26, 2017 11:15 am

More info:

Global Meeting of the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society

Where: the Louvre, Paris, France

When: October 6, 2017 02:15 pm

More info: Link here.

Ithaca College Gerontology Institute’s Distinguished Speaker lecture

Where: Ithaca, New York.

When: October 23, 2017 07:00 pm

More info:

VII Futures Congress

Where: Santiago, Chile

When: January 15, 2018 12:00 am

More info:

"A global flagship science engagement event;" link here

Past Appearances

Media

Interview in Hello Gorgeous, a Dutch magazine about people living with HIV

Interview in Hello Gorgeous, a Dutch magazine about people living with HIV

May 29, 2017

Link here (page 42-45).

Interview on The Solution podcast

Interview on The Solution podcast

May 24, 2017

Link here.

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

May 17, 2017

Link here. (Appeared in the Glassdoor blog)

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

April 5, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

March 24, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

March 16, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

February 17, 2017

Link here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

 

HelpAge International also makes two guides available:

 

I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together: a guide to reuniting the generations, with examples of intergenerational programs and initiatives, from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation.

 

Books

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

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

Reports

Links

Video

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016:

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016:

On Vimeo:

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.

Contact

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