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.


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 Winner
in 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


The New Yorker magazine's ageist take on ageism

I’m a lifelong New Yorker addict, so when I heard they were running a piece on ageism, I got excited. That was a mistake. Tad Friend’s article in the November 20th issue, "Why Ageism Never Gets Old, is glib and disappointing on many fronts. Here’s my Letter to the Editor, followed by letters from other dismayed colleagues:

Should we learn to live with racism? Quit pursuing equal rights for women? That's the position Tad Friend takes regarding discrimination on the basis of age , which he describes as “hardwired,” “probably inevitable,” and remediable only via immortality. 

Older people are indeed closer to death, but even if that's partly to blame for the stigma, why should we give it a pass? The reason hundreds of thousands of buff boomers can’t land a job interview isn’t because they have one foot in the grave, it’s because they face entrenched discrimination—and not just in tech. Ageism is no more embodied or “natural” than other forms of prejudice. They’re all socially constructed: they're not about biology, they're about power. Much about aging is difficult of course, but much of that difficulty is constructed or compounded by ageism. Just as social movements emerged to challenge other forms of oppression, an Age Pride movement is underway. Our world is growing old fast, and it's high time.

* * *

from age scholar Margaret Gullette, author of Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People and other books

The New Yorker has been open to the #MeToo campaign in powerful ways. After a joint editorial, "Autumn of the Patriarch," and another by David Remnick, Alexandra Schwartz told a brief history of the movement, concluding "Its power lies in its simplicity: the whole poisonous spectrum of misogyny covered in two mundane words." Sexism is everywhere. Nobody wrote in #NotMe. And now the New Yorker is opening its readers’ minds to ageism. It's good to see "Ageism" in the title of Tad Friend’s article, and recognition that this plague is a historical, cultural, economic phenomenon, gathering ominous strength in our era. And this overview follows Rachel Aviv’s brilliant narrative of the laws in Nevada that take power of attorney away from competent old people ("How the Elderly Lose Their Rights").

#MeTooAgainstAgeism, by contrast, is a concept waiting for its inevitable campaign. I think of the silent women in 1991 bitterly watching Anita Hill not being believed.  In resisting ageism’s assaults, American society is still back in 1991, waiting for the humiliated, shamed silences to end, waiting for the vast spectrum of age-related grievances to speak. We are far from admitting that ageism is everywhere.

Deciding what counts as an ageist attack is a complex empirical, philosophical, and political first step. One fresh example, in front of our noses this week. Not everyone will be homeless in the streets if Congress cuts Medicaid's support for people in nursing homes; some of them will go live with their adult children. But knowing that the Republicans' enmity toward people in nursing homes is also a form of ageism, that's a leap worth making. Americans would spend less time worrying about aging if we eliminated some of the worst ageists. Anti-ageism’s biggest promise right now? A good fight.

* * *

from Steve Burghardt & Alice Fisher, founding directors, the Radical Age Movement:

Tad Friend’s otherwise insightful essay on ageism (“Why Ageism Never Gets Old,” November 20. 2017) ends on an odd note, negating all that he has thoughtfully chronicled before.  “The only way to eliminate ageism is to eliminate the terror of death.” Huh? The “terror of death” is intensified by ageism, not the cause of it.

Most of us who are Radical Agers fear irrelevance far more than the mortal coil: laughed at for continued sexuality, stereotyped as doddering digitals, ignored because the hair is grey even though the mind is sharp.  “Old age”—from 60 onwards-- promises to be the longest developmental period of our lives.  If folks of all ages don’t commit to age justice, we consign ourselves to the continuing shame wrought by simply wanting to live a full life alongside people of all ages— from children to Elders.

Anyone between 40 and 80 who’s embarrassed to say their age in front of “mixed company”—you know, someone younger than you—lives with fear far sooner than whatever death has to offer.  Instead of accepting this dance of marginality as we waltz towards the grave, perhaps we’d be better off fighting to live a full and exciting life no matter our age.

* * *

from Chip Conley, entrepreneur and author of the forthcoming Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder:

I appreciated Tad Friend's deep dive into the fountain of ageism [“Getting On, November 20th], but found his pessimism misguided. The concept of the three-stage life (learn, earn, retire to your pasture), an ageist construct that consigns half the population to premature obsolescence, is rapidly losing its grip on society. As our obsession with digital intelligence cedes power to the young, the value of wisdom and emotional intelligence, embodied by a movement of “modern elders," will grow. 

* * *

from social gerontologist Jeanette Leardi:

I take great exception to some of the points made by Tad Friend in his study of ageism (“Getting On,” November 20th). While the topic is broad and often difficult to analyze in a magazine article, it’s precisely the vastness of the issue that the author fails to consider as ageism’s chief impact on contemporary life. He chastises writers Ashton Applewhite and Margaret Morganroth Gullette as “tend[ing] to see ageism lurking everywhere.” The truth is, ageism is everywhere, often presented under the most innocuous circumstances and linguistic guises.

Recasting ageist language isn’t a futile, Botox-like “sort of cream concealer” that “deepens the frown lines it’s meant to conceal.” All Friend had to do was consider the impact of reframed language on the feminist and civil rights movements. Children brought up to hear more respectful, inclusive terms grow up to be more respectful and inclusive. It’s how education works. Furthermore, by reveling a contrarian's view about the need (let alone the merits) of disrupting ageism, Friend reveals the myopia of his perception. He devotes no space to a discussion of the accrued assets of aging, especially concerning the development (and not just the deterioration) of the older brain. While speed of processing and working memory begin to decline with age, the older brain becomes more adept at bi-hemispheric problem-solving as well as more accurately discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information when performing a task.

Because of these omissions, he unconsciously justifies his argument that there’s really not much to defend concerning the dignity and value of old age. Ironically, by suggesting that fighting ageism is an exercise in futility, Friend strengthens the prejudice he seeks to uncover and dispel.

* * *

from Felicity Chapman, Clinical Social Worker and Gerontological Psychotherapist, University of Adelaide:

Stereotypes of older adults are indeed too stark. We need to see older adults like everyone else—delightfully nuanced and full of contradiction. And shame on the New Yorker for supposing that ageism will always stay fresh. Change happens all the time. And it starts with us. Now.

Kids vs. canes? Debunking this false dichotomy

The Washington Post is the latest media outlet to describe population aging as a zero-sum, “kids vs. canes” proposition in which the old profit at the expense of the young (“How the graying of America is stretching local tax dollars,” October 23, 2017). This scenario makes great headlines. But it’s a red herring, and it reduces the new longevity to a problem when it is also a fundamental measure of human progress.

 Framing population aging in old vs. young terms:

  • Is unethical: We don’t allocate resources by race or by sex. Weighing the needs of the old against the young is equally unacceptable. Period.
  • Fails the common sense test: Olders are not “them;” they are “us:” our parents and spouses, our neighbors and friends. If society doesn’t help support a decent old age, who’s going to end up taking care of your grandparents—and you in turn? Everyone is old or future old.
  • Is profoundly ageist: The depiction of older Americans as social and economic dead weight is mean-spirited and flat-out wrong. Increasing numbers continue to work and pay taxes well past “retirement age.” In 2015 their unpaid volunteer work was valued at $75 billion. By 2032 the 50-plus age group is projected to drive more than half of US economic activity. Olders do indeed receive a significant amount of government and welfare spending, but isn’t that what the system was designed for—to help those who need it? Resources are not inherently scarce; they are the result of policy decisions in a society that devalues its oldest and youngest citizens. It’s a question of priorities.
  • Pits us against each other: Communities that are good to grow old in—with social and health care services, safe public spaces, good public transportation, and smarter zoning—benefit everyone, as do workplaces that offer the accessibility and flextime that older workers require. They’re all-age-friendly.
  • Is unhelpful: We are all aging. Instead of arguing over whose needs come first, let’s develop sensible and economical ways to support the multi-generational society that we all hope to live long enough to inhabit. Examples include engaging Meals on Wheels programs to deliver other social services, co-locating senior centers and day care centers, and developing community-based programs that keep olders living at home and socially connected.

Longer lives represent not just a challenge but a remarkable resource and opportunity. To take advantage of this “longevity dividend,” we need to quit the reflexive hand-wringing, challenge the ageist assumptions that underlie it, and think realistically and imaginatively about the kinds of intergenerational contracts an equitable future will require. It's going to require all hands on deck—and all ages.

Ashton Applewhite,

Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director, Justice in Aging




Guest Post: From “Senior” to “Sully” Moment

This guest post is by Jeanette Leardi, a Portland, Oregon, writer, editor, and community educator who is changing perceptions about the aging process and helping people appreciate elders’ inherent dignity, wisdom, and unique value as mentors and catalysts for social change. You can read more of her blog posts at ChangingAging, where this post first appeared, and reach her through her website.

As a social gerontologist, community educator, and writer, I am passionate about explaining how language affects –– in good or bad ways –– our perceptions of aging, and vice versa. Three particular phrases raise my hackles.

“Successful aging” is often used to depict the process of getting older as solely an individual’s responsibility rather than to also acknowledge powerful socioeconomic factors that affect a person’s ability to survive and thrive throughout life.

“Silver tsunami” is a phrase that mischaracterizes the arrival into older adulthood of America’s Baby Boom generation as a sudden and catastrophic force that will wipe out national productivity as well as entitlement program funds, without taking into account the potentially vast contributions elders can and do make in our society.

These two terms are regularly employed by the media when covering aging issues. But we hear the third term –– “senior moment” –– all the time, used by practically everyone from youth to the oldest old among us. The phrase is so pervasive that it has taken on a kind of scientific validity, as if the act of forgetting familiar information is limited to the behavior of older people. It’s not.

Here’s the reality about senior moments: They happen to all adults decades before they reach elderhood. According to University of Virginia psychology professor Dr. Timothy A. Salthouse, “some aspects of age-related cognitive decline begin in healthy educated adults when they are in their 20s and 30s.”Within five years after a cognitive peak around age 22, we begin to experience a gradual decline in the speed at which our brains work, as well as our ability to make quick comparisons, to think abstractly, to remember unrelated pieces of information, and to perceive patterns and relationships. And by our late 30s, problems with our memory become more apparent to us.

In short, senior moments belong to us all. Or as Ashton Applewhite eloquently states in her ground-breaking book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, “I used to think that those [‘senior moments’] quips were self-deprecatingly cute, until it dawned on me that when I lost the car keys in high school, I didn’t call it a ‘junior moment.’”

So instead of unrealistically attributing senior moments only to the elder experience, I’d like to offer a refreshing (and more accurate) meme for older brain activity: the “Sully moment.”

From “Senior” to “Sully” Moment - ChangingAging
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger

Enter famed airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hero of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” who made a successful 2009 emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River of a U.S. Airways plane carrying 155 passengers. The inspiring story of his accomplishment can actually be explained by a brain phenomenon known as bihemispheric processing.

This skill fully develops around age 50, when the corpus callosum –– a bridge of tissue connecting our left and right hemispheres –– reaches its maximum maturity of approximately 200 million to 250 million nerve fibers. At this point, our brain reaches a state that geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen has described as shifting from two-wheel drive to “all-wheel drive.” Evidence of this shift is a greater ability to approach problem-solving from many different perspectives and to detect more subtle differences in circumstances and viewpoints.

Just catch Sully’s 2009 60 Minutes interview with Katie Couric, and you’ll hear an account of all-wheel drive in action as he ticked off in succession the various factors he had to consider and computations he had to make within seconds. “I was sure I could do it,” he said. “I think in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment.”

As he also told Couric, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

All of this is not to say that younger adults can’t process information bihemispherically. Of course they can. It’s just that they get better at it as they get older. Like much of life, we experience many things as tradeoffs. Sure, we may have more tip-of-the-tongue brain stutters, and our reaction times may get slower. On the other hand, as Salthouse has noted, our vocabulary increases and we accumulate and retain more general knowledge at least until we reach age 60. And older adults with healthy brains continue to integrate that knowledge as they apply their skills throughout their lives. Overall, when you think about it, it’s not a bad deal.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll happily trade a “senior moment” for a “Sully moment” anytime.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

November 2, 2017

Link here.

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

October 12, 2017

Article in the New York Times

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

July 13, 2017

Article in

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

June 15, 2017

Book published by HarperCollins, 1997. Reissued in 2017 with new preface by the author.

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

September 3, 2016

Article in the New York Times

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more


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

VII Futures Congress

Where: Santiago, Chile

When: January 15, 2018 12:00 am

More info:

"A global flagship science engagement event;" link here

MoMA R&D Salon 22: Aging - panel discussion

Where: Museum of Modern Art, Bartos Theatre, 4 West 54 St, NYC

When: January 22, 2018 06:00 pm

More info:

talk at Mt. Sinai West to School of Social Work

Where: 1000 Tenth Ave, 14B Boardroom.

When: February 8, 2018 10:00 am

More info:

keynote, Headspace2018

Where: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

When: March 2, 2018 12:00 am

More info: "The event explores using science and the arts to understand the totality of contemporary ageing, its challenges and joys."

keynote, Walk With Me: Changing the Culture of Aging in Canada

Where: Niagara Falls, Ontario

When: March 5, 2018 09:00 am

More info:

keynote, Masterpiece Living Annual Symposium

Where: Philadelphia, PA

When: April 4, 2018 11:00 am

More info:

Annual Gala, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation

Where: Fredericton, NB, Canada

When: April 12, 2018 07:00 pm

More info:

Wake Health Invited Lecture

Where: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

When: May 3, 2018 04:00 pm

More info:

Past Appearances


Interview on Wisconsin Public Radio

Interview on Wisconsin Public Radio

October 26, 2017

Link here.

Interview on Community Radio WRFI, Ithaca, NY

Interview on Community Radio WRFI, Ithaca, NY

October 24, 2017

Link here.

Interview on FranceInfo

Interview on FranceInfo

October 20, 2017

Link here.

Interview on “ Zvezdana,” RTV Slovenia

Interview on “ Zvezdana,” RTV Slovenia

October 14, 2017

Link here.

Retirement Journeys podcast

Retirement Journeys podcast

October 11, 2017

Link here.

There’s more




HelpAge makes two worksheets available:


LeadingAge offers a guide to starting a community dialogue about ageism and a short slideshow to raise awareness:


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.



  • 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.




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.


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 received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver, and joined the fifth annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40.


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