This Chair Rocks

Aging isn’t a problem to be solved. Or a disease to be cured. Or something icky that old people do. It’s how we move through life, and more of us are doing more of it than ever before in human history. What stands between us and making the most of these longer lives? Ageism: judging, stereotyping, and discriminating against people on the basis of how old we think they are. Solve for ageism and we also address sexism (aging is gendered), ableism (disability is stigmatized), and racism (which denies multitudes the chance to age at all). So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I speak widely. All efforts to help catalyze a grassroots movement to raise awareness of ageism and how to dismantle it.

About the Book

Buy the book

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

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

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

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



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

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

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

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

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.


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

Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging

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

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

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

Anne Karpf, author of How to Age

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

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


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

Think “too many old people” will swamp social welfare programs? Think again.

Since the 1970s, population aging—the proverbial “gray tsunami”—has been used to justify “pension reform,” austerity, and privatization across the wealthy nations. Alarmist projections have long fueled neoliberal, small-government policy reforms. In the Fall 2023 issue of Jacobin editor-at-large Seth Ackerman argues that it’s time to quit the hand-wringing and look at the data. (See The Welfare State Can Survive the Great Aging; paywall, alas.) The “staggering” increases in pension costs that have people so worried “are only staggering because of how shockingly small they are,” he writes. Every G7 nation except Germany is projected to see pension spending rise by less than 1 percent of GDP. In France and in Japan, the “oldest” country in the world, spending as a share of GDP is set to fall. How can this be?

The answer is simple: around the world, the four-decade-long wave of pension cutbacks has already programmed so many increases in retirement ages and reductions in earnings replacement levels that the impact of rising life expectancy has been almost completely neutralized. The long-advertised crisis of the welfare state supposedly rendered inevitable by the pressures of population aging has now been almost entirely averted.”

Ackerman reaches this conclusion despite relying without interrogation on  the “old-age dependency ratio” as his key metric. This loaded term compares the number of people ages 15 to 64 (workers) with people 65 and older (dependents). The “old age” modifier starkly separates older Americans from the general population, labeling them economic dead weight the day they hit 65. In fact Americans draw heavily on their own resources in retirement. Many people require benefits well before they turn 65, and a growing proportion remain employed long after it, both by choice and by necessity. (The World Bank has developed a long-overdue alternative formula, called the adult dependency ratio, which takes these trends into account.) This metric also overlooks the “longevity economy,” which contributed $45 trillion to the global GDP and generated $23 trillion in labor income in 2020 alone, according to AARP’s Global Longevity Economy Outlook.

Another problem with this model it that it frames older people as economic burdens: “greedy geezers” who profit at the expense of the young. This feeds the false and corrosive narrative of “generational conflict.” Families and communities are made up of all ages. We’re in the middle of the biggest wealth transfer in history, as the baby boom dies off and passes its assets on to their successors, who have outnumbered them since 2019. Only some have assets to pass on; destitution awaits many retirees. Treating “the old” or “the young” as homogenous groups obscures the far larger role that class plays in shaping life trajectories. Humans are born into vastly unequal circumstances, and inequalities tend to increase as cohorts age—especially in the absence of social welfare programs designed to mitigate those circumstances. (This is the theme of Dutch gerontologist Jan Baars new book, Long Lives Are for the Rich.)

The so-called tsunami is upon us: worldwide, people over age 60 already outnumber children under age 5. It’s no tsunami; it’s a demographic wave that scientists have been tracking for 70 years. It’s increasingly clear that the socioeconomic threat posed by population aging has been overstated to justify shrinking the welfare state and public assistance programs. Nor have other demographic horror stories predicted by conservatives in the 1990s come to pass, as Dean Baker observed on 11/2/23 in Counterpunch. Healthcare costs have not exploded. (The notion that older people are an inevitable sink for healthcare dollars is incorrect.) Most of the baby boom has already reached “retirement age” and the sky has not fallen. Adjustments to Social Security have already accounted for increased longevity.

That longevity is not evenly distributed: almost all the gains in the last half-century have gone to the well-off. That’s why Baker’s article is titled “The Return of the Aging Crisis: A Diversion from Inequality.” Shamefully, although life expectancy since 2020 has rebounded in other wealthy nations, in the US it has dropped dramatically. Americans who live less long are disproportionately black, brown, and indigenous, because they experience the highest levels of poverty, face the most food insecurity, and have less or no access to healthcare.

Blame COVID19. Blame drug overdoses. Blame the shrinking of public assistance programs, although the opposite is called for if the country is to meet the needs of its poorest and oldest citizens in the years to come. Blame the systemic racism, ageism, and ableism that underlie these policy choices. Don’t blame “too many old people."


Concrete evidence of culture change is rare. My latest newsletter is packed with it! Let's celebrate huge progress in raising awareness of ageism around the world, draw inspiration from it, and encourage others to build on these efforts.

“Rejected.” The human cost of ageism in the workplace

On Saturday I received this note via LinkedIn from a woman named Amy Claire Massingale. Massingale has a background in business development and marketing, and is also a published poet. She had applied for a position as a business development director for a medical manufacturing company. Her story bears eloquent, maddening testimony to the job discrimination that older people, and women of all ages, continue to confront.

"I was rejected yesterday. After an interview with the decision-maker and then a second interview with his younger male counterpart, I was told that they were looking for someone with "less experience." A candidate better aligned with their salary range. He wished me all the best in my search.

"I beat myself up for a little while after reading the email. I found myself wishing I had dumbed down the interview so I that I could have made it to the next round. And then crying because that thought had actually crossed my mind. I also feel like crying every time I revise my CV or my LinkedIn profile. Every time I list jobs only within the past decade, like the woman at the unemployment office told me to do. Or when I delete the word "Caregiver" from my bio and type in "Tech" instead.

"We had not actually discussed the salary but the truth is, I would have made it work somehow, because I have a 17-year old daughter at home and I want her to go to college if she chooses to go. She won't see this, so she won’t know that the real reason I want her to attend college is not necessarily for the job it might land her. Because that could or could not happen and it may or may not make her happy. Who knows what to expect in the gig economy and beyond.

"It is because I want her to see that the world is bigger than the high school “friends” that bullied her and the system that tried, but failed, to accommodate her learning challenges. That it is both more tender and terrible than her toxic social media will ever reveal. That it is more courageous than the men who walked out when teenage feelings and behavior got too big and scary. And that it is more hopeful than the year of childhood the pandemic stole from her. What I want her to see is the resiliency of women. Of any woman, who cares for, and then buries, her family with her dreams. Working full time and writing poetry at night. And then is told that she looks too tired. Or too this, or too that.

"I want her to understand that though many people in life may try to dim her light, or silence her, or make her feel not good enough, inside her is a voice that is her very own unique and beautiful truth. Her job - my job - and the only job that really matters for any of us - is to listen to that voice and tell its story...its "experience" if you will. It's the only way we're going to find any meaning in this mayhem, the only way we're going to find our way back to each other, and the only way this very sick and precious planet is ever going to heal."

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Ageist? Ableist? Who, me?

Ageist? Ableist? Who, me?

January 18, 2023

Link here.

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

June 29, 2021

Link here.

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

March 15, 2021

Link here.

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

March 26, 2020

Link here.

Beating age discrimination

Beating age discrimination

May 1, 2019

Article in The Big Issue

There’s more


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

To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

What People Are Saying:

I was encouraged by the statistics you quoted, forced to acknowledge my own ageist thoughts, and ultimately fired up to fight them in myself and others. You are on to something big!

Sarah Meredith, painter

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

UN Decade of Healthy Ageing

Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.

David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright

This Chair Rocks confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!

Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York

All practitioners working with older adults need to be informed about the pernicious influences of ageism. Nobody does this better than Ashton Applewhite. Her thinking is deep, her passion infectious, and her cogent message is spot on: we urgently need to have a national conversation about ageism to raise awareness about it and to stop it.

Risa Breckman, LCSW, Executive Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center

You have found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all.

Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News

Octogenarians are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet most Americans are scared stiff at the prospect of growing old. [Applewhite’s work] is a welcome and important tonic.

Dr. Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coiner of the term “ageism”

A beautifully delivered, provocative description of how ageism clouds our vision of what life holds in store.

Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts

Ashton Applewhite is on a crusade. A journalist and author, her mission is to raise awareness of ageism in America and get people young and old to join her in speaking out against it.

Senior Planet

Thank you again for your terrific keynote yesterday. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!

Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies

Upcoming Appearances

keynote, American Hospitals Association, Health Equity Conference

Where: Kansas City, MO

When: May 9, 2024 09:00 am

More info: Details pending here.

five-night workshop, Modern Elder Academy

Where: Baja, Mexico

When: December 9, 2024 12:00 am

More info: Description to come. Info about MEA's workshops here.


Past Appearances


interview, NHK

interview, NHK

October 20, 2023

Link here.

interview, Voyager Japan

interview, Voyager Japan

October 20, 2023

Link here.



September 16, 2023

Link here.

article, Mainichi Shinbun

article, Mainichi Shinbun

September 24, 2023

Link here.

podcast, Period to Pause Episode 42 Destigmatizing Ageism

podcast, Period to Pause Episode 42 Destigmatizing Ageism

February 23, 2023

Link here.

There’s more


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


On YouTube


Inaugural Greengross Lecture on the Future of Ageing at the British Museum
15 June 2023

Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016

What Is Ageism?

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of. Or “too young;” ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.

Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.

Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the same—underlies ageism (as it does all “isms”). Stereotyping is always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get, the more different from one another we become.

Attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: “just the way it is.” Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.

By blinding us to the benefits of aging and heightening our fears, ageism makes growing older far harder than it has to be. It damages our sense of self, segregates us, diminishes our prospects, and actually shortens lives.

What are the antidotes?

  •    Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. (Download a copy of Who me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness Raising Group.) Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are actually widely shared social problems that require collective action.
  •    Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
  •    Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.


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

My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog.

During this time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times; and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver. I’ve received numerous awards for my work. The most head-spinning was being named one of “fifty leaders working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older” by the UN’s Decade of Healthy Aging platform (a collaboration between the WHO) in 2022.

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

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




Contact information

Mailing list

Sign up to receive announcements for This Chair Rocks and information about my upcoming events.