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, powerful, lifelong 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 led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.

About the Book

One ofThe best
books to read
at every age

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.


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


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

How is healthcare in America failing older people—and why? Read ELDERHOOD.

Treating a patient slowed by Parkinson’s, geriatrician Louise
Aronson sings a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in her head to make sure they have enough
time to respond. I’d love a doctor this humane as I head into old age, not to
mention this expert. But she lives across the country and I’ll bet there’s
quite a waiting list, so I’ll have to settle for her as an ally—and what an important
ally she is.   

Elderhood, Aronson’s
urgent, eloquent new book, catapults her to the front line of those calling for
culture change around aging in general and healthcare in particular. It’s an
expertly argued takedown of a system that:

  • makes it far easier for people to see doctors than get the social services that would improve their lives;
  • punishes doctors, instead of rewarding them, for tackling the complex needs of older people in a humane, holistic fashion. Many burn out, including Aronson herself, a painful process she chronicles in the book.
  • prioritizes the high-tech over the human, those in midlife over the young and the old, and curing over caring;
  • typically treats the chronic conditions that accumulate over time without taking quality of life into consideration, making more years of debility more likely;
  • makes a good death harder to achieve by forcing many people to go on longer than they would like. The list goes on.

Innovations are underway, but most medical schools have yet to question the profession’s entrenched bias and assumptions. Olders are either undertreated (deprived of treatment that would probably help them) or overtreated (with drugs and regimens that don’t take age into account). Both approaches, Aronson bluntly observes, “are forms of ageism.” So is the omission of older people from clinical trials, which Aronson calls “ridiculous,” likening age limits in osteoporosis studies to “ studying menopause in thirty-year-old women.” So is the lack of interest in why men live less long. Again, the list goes on.

Why don’t clinicians spend more time studying the people and
complex conditions that require the most medical attention—and healthcare
dollars? Because, Aronson explains “social forces and cultural rationales
determine what doctors study and value.” Left behind are not only the non-young
but the non-male, non-white, and non-“able-bodied,” and as she comments tartly,
“When people are defined by what they are not, we are in trouble.” Medical
advances have very different consequences in a world of much longer lives, yet most
institutions ignore those consequences. The result is vast waste and immense

What we need, Aronson argues, isn’t better medical science and
technology, but a profound shift in the underlying culture around age and aging:

Biology matters, but it’s only one part of a far more complex equation that includes attitude, behaviors, relationships, and culture. That’s a terrifying thought in a culture where ageism is more common than sexism or racism, and most people of all ages see old age through a window rendered dark and dirty by negative stereotypes. But there’s hope—beliefs have frequently changed through history, and for individuals, they can change at any age. And when beliefs about elderhood change, the culture and experience of old age, in life and in medicine, will change too.

For Aronson’s blueprint for the necessary innovative, structural changes to our healthcare system, read her book. (Read it also for the moving portraits and splendid prose; Aronson is also a gifted writer.) For the necessary shift in our attitudes and beliefs about aging, read mine—and look in the mirror. The culture change that both of us demand requires a grassroots social movement, like the women’s movement, to raise awareness of ageism and make it as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice. That change begins in each of us, as we confront our own internalized age bias, begin to unlearn it, and take that shift out into the world. For starters, if your or your parents’ doctor says, “What do you expect at your age?” call them on it—and find a new doctor.

Definitive evidence that anti-ageism interventions work

We’ve known for a while that ageism—negative beliefs and stereotypes about aging—make us vulnerable to disease and decline, and also that the opposite is true. People with fact- rather than fear-based attitudes towards aging walk faster, heal quicker, live longer, and are less likely to get Alzheimer’s—even if they’re genetically predisposed to the disease.

Until recently, though, we didn’t  know much about whether strategies to reduce ageism actually worked. That changed on June 21, when a report published in the American Journal of Public Health showed for the first time that “it is possible to reduce ageist attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes.” Boom! The results are far more definitive than a single study. Scientists at Cornell University conducted a “systematic review and meta-analysis”  of 63 studies conducted over the past forty years with a total of 6,124 participants. After evaluating three types of interventions designed to curb ageism, they found that the most successful  programs encourage intergenerational contact and educate people about the facts of aging.

“The most surprising thing was how well some of these programs seemed to work,” observed co-author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell and gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. "The findings really suggest that these interventions had a very strong effect on outcomes, attitudes and knowledge" about aging, concurred study author David Burnes, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Toronto.

Not only that, experts agree that these kinds of interventions shouldn't cost much money and are easy to implement. Possibilities include after-school mentoring or tutoring programs; college classes on aging and age bias; and activities that involve all ages, like a community garden or putting on a play or organizing around a shared cause.

There’s no excusing ageism.

When the last parent died in 2017, I visualized their canoes heading over an immense waterfall. My partner’s and my canoes fell next in line. Gulp. Yet this scenario sure beats the alternative: outliving the younger people we love. Is it this inexorable succession that gives purchase to the notion that ageism is less problematic than other forms of prejudice? Many people seem to agree that while racism and sexism are inherently wrong, it’s acceptable for olders to be ushered offstage, whether or not they go willingly. Many factors—age segregation, the anti-aging industrial complex, the cultural narrative that to age is to fail—feed that idea.

In fact there is nothing acceptable about anyone being segregated or silenced against their wishes. The wrong lies in giving any kind of discrimination a pass.

Here are some of the arguments people use to excuse age
bias, explained and rebutted:

Straw man #1: Prejudice is hard-wired.

Neither the fundamental cycle of life nor our evolutionary history justifies one of the most common justifications for bias in general and age bias in particular: being prejudiced is a part of being human. We know that homo sapiens evolved with a proclivity to divide people into “us” and “them,” behavior that conferred survival benefits by making it easier and quicker to choose who to trust. But we no longer live in isolated tribes; “us” and “them” commingle, all over the world. Prejudice is ignorant, and we now have far more information at our disposal than our hominid ancestors did. We also no longer die young, and in a world of longer lives a bias against our future selves makes even less sense (not that any prejudice is rational). Are only the reproductively active of value in an information society? Are we still hostage to these ancient biases?

I don’t buy it, and science backs me up. “The assumption that groups are competitive, that it’s built on our evolution as a social species — it’s just not true,” says sociologist Marilynn Brewer. The current scientific understanding is that humans are hardwired to make distinctions on the basis of physical appearance, but not to act in any particular given way because of it. Prejudice (the rapid tendency to make us vs. them distinctions) is less controllable than discrimination (behaving in ways that foster or reinforce those distinctions). In other words, we all see race—no one is “colorblind,” and to pretend otherwise is to be blind to racism and privilege—but we can respond by thinking and acting in anti-racist ways. We can choose to become aware of our biases instead of letting them unconsciously drive actions that harm the less privileged. And we need to work to unlearn them, because being “woke” is not enough.

Straw man #2: Age segregation is natural.

These days,
with the exception of family gatherings and large public events, it’s rare for
the generations to mix socially. It wasn’t always like that. Well into the nineteenth
century, many Americans didn’t celebrate birthdays or even know their birth year!
Only during the Industrial Revolution did age become important. Age-specific
institutions like orphanages and old age homes arose; age began to determine
when people could work, drink, smoke, and have sex; and people began to
socialize with age peers. Segregation begets discrimination: ageism reared its
head alongside age consciousness.

I used to
say that ageism subverted the “natural order of things” by fostering age
segregation. I don’t any more, thanks in part to an astute comment on my blog:
“it is wrong to infer that anything in the past is automatically the ‘natural
order of things,’” they wrote, because the phrase prioritizes returning to the
familiar over adapting to the new. “There is no ‘going back’ to the old ways. We
confuse the ‘what we need to do’ with the ‘how we need to get there.’”

The “there” I hope we reach is a world that supports people across the lifespan. We get there by acknowledging that aging is natural and ageism is not. We get there by exposing the reactionary voices that seek to persuade us otherwise. An ageist and sexist world finds older women’s bodies repulsive; an anti-Semitic one is repelled by Jews; an ableist one wants the differently abled out of sight; a white supremacist world finds people of color unworthy of equal access to power and resources. Those values are socially constructed. In other words, we make them up, and we can unmake them and embrace different ones.

What does
“natural” mean, anyhow? People with severe disabilities used to die young. Not
that long ago it was considered “unnatural” for people to be physically
attracted to the same sex, or for privileged women to work outside the home. Culture
change is slow: interracial marriage was banned in California until 1948. These
struggles are ongoing: abhorrence of “race-mixing” and the threat of “white
extinction” fuels currently resurgent white supremacy. But none of this stigma is “natural” and none of it is

Ageism persists for the same reason as other forms of oppression: not because it’s human nature but because it sustains existing power relations . Feeling alienated from older people and apprehensive at becoming like us is not “natural” or appropriate or inevitable. It is the result of social forces—ageism, sexism, and capitalism.

Straw man #3: People reject olders to avoid thinking about their own mortality.

rationale for gerontophobia(fear of aging and aversion to old people) is that
olders are closer to death, and, well, who wants to go there? The dearth of meaningful
rituals around death and dying in American culture doesn’t help. Compare it to
Mexico, where the culture embraces death as part of life, and celebrates the
Day of the Dead as a time to honor and connect with those who have passed on.

Fear of dying
is human; it’s why we have religion, and Mozart’s
. Fear of aging, however, is cultural; plenty of societies venerate
their older members and keep them in community. It is an ageist world that conflates
the two. It’s why bookstores have shelves labeled “Aging and Death,” and why
you can get a graduate degree in “Older Adult/End of Life Care.” Yes, older
people are reminders of mortality; our canoes are closer to the waterfall. But
aging is a lifelong process: to age is to live and to live is to age.  Dying, on the other hand, is a distinct
biological event that happens only at the end of all that living, as anyone who
has witnessed a death can attest. People may think I’m ancient, but they don’t
think I’m dying.

conflation of aging and dying also annoys Mike North, a professor at New York
University who studies older workers and who provided the academic term for it:
mortality salience. It derives from a
field called . . . wait for it . . . “terror
management theory,” which asserts that fear of dying drives almost all human
activity. North isn’t buying it. “How does mortality salience explain
forcing 50-year-olds out of the job market?” he asks. Or bias against younger
people? I’m not buying it either. Ageism cuts both ways, and aversion to
confronting our mortality does not explain or justify it.

Straw man #4: Ageism isn’t as problematic as other “isms.”

What’s my least favorite rationale for giving ageism a pass? That discrimination against olders is somehow more excusable than other forms of prejudice: bias lite, as it were. The government declined to add age to race and sex as a protected category under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The burden of proof is higher in age discrimination cases, too. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor set age apart “because all persons, if they live out their normal life spans, will experience it.” But as age scholar Margaret Cruikshank has pointed out, not only are older people a minority of the population, there’s no comfort in the fact that some escaped unfair treatment when they were young. Ageism is different from other oppressions in that each of us will encounter it, and unique in that we move into and out of age privilege, but those attributes don’t make it more problematic than other “isms”—or less so. All discrimination is wrong.

importantly, trying to determine which prejudice does the most damage or which group
is the worst off— getting
sucked into the “oppression Olympics”—is counterproductive and divisive. This way of thinking keeps
us from uniting against the structures and systems that benefit from all forms of
prejudice. “In pitting one ism against the other, we serve those in power,” counselor and
anti-ageism advocate L.C. confirms. “All isms are reprehensible.”

Nor are
these oppressions are the
same, or experienced equally. “Ageism looks differently on
Blacks and people of color, because we are united with and affected by all the
other isms,” L.C. continues. “As an African American woman I cannot divide
myself into pieces.” Uncomfortable with the way a
group of white cops were placing an older black man into an EMT truck, she
asked them not to harm or kill him. “I was told to mind my business.
They did not see their grandmother nor mother. They saw the color of my skin, without
value in this society.” Just as humans cannot be divided into pieces, neither
should efforts towards a more equitable world for all. As the T-shirts say, none
of us is free until all of us are free. It’s all one struggle.

A better world in which to grow old is
also a better place to be female, be queer, to have a disability, to be from
somewhere else.

Just as different forms of oppression intersect and reinforce each
other, so do different forms of activism: when we chip away at any form of
prejudice, we chip away at the ignorance and fear that underlie them all. Because
aging is the one universal human experience, ageism is a perfect target for compound activism. Undoing ageism, in turn,
requires anti-ageists to join forces with other groups who are marginalized
because of what they look like, how their bodies work, who they love, and how and
where they grew up.

Building an intersectional and inclusive movement against ageism will be take longer, but it’s the one I want to be part of. The movement that emerges will be stronger, more resilient, more radical, more sustainable, and more joyful. It’s the way to eradicate ageism in all sectors of society. Activism of any kind is more effective if it’s intergenerational. And only by coming together at all ages against all oppression will we create the more equitable world we all hope to live long enough to inhabit.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Beating age discrimination

Beating age discrimination

May 1, 2019

Article in The Big Issue

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

March 14, 2019

Article on Books Inc.

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

March 10, 2019

Article in the New York Post

If you care about equality, fight ageism – just as you fight sexism and racism

If you care about equality, fight ageism – just as you fight sexism and racism

March 4, 2019

Article in the Independent

Age of distinction: Don’t believe the ageist myths. We only get better in our golden years.

Age of distinction: Don’t believe the ageist myths. We only get better in our golden years.

March 3, 2019

Article in The Globe and Mail

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more


My We Are All Aging talk explains the roots of ageism – in society and in our own age denial – how it divides and diminishes us, and ends with a rousing call to mobilize against it. This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life charts my journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical and proposes an alternative to all the hand-wringing: wake up, cheer up, and push back. Aging While Female, Reimagined describes how the double whammy of ageism and sexism makes aging different for women, and what we can do about it. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and how to reframe the new longevity in order to make the most of longer lives. To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

What People Are Saying:

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

Sarah Meredith, painter

Why can’t we stop ageism? Good question. For some answers, start looking in the mirror and look around you. For a good dialogue on the subject, visit Ashton Applewhite’s website, This Chair Rocks.

Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP

Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.

David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright

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

Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York

Holistic, deep, urgent, and also fun.

Lenelle Moise, playwright and performer

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

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

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

Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News

Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at the 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.

Jean Callahan, Director, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging

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

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

We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise and Aged by Culture

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

Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts

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

Senior Planet

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

Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies

Upcoming Appearances

talk, SXSW me Convention

Where: Messe center, Frankfurt, Germany

When: September 11, 2019 12:00 am

More info:

"The me Convention brings together thousands of curious, critical and engaged minds who don’t just want to talk about the future – they want to help create it!" Register here.  

keynote + workshop, Planetree International Conference on Person-Centered Care

Where: Orlando, FL

When: October 29, 2019 02:00 pm

More info: Register here.

plenary, Australian Association of Gerontology annual conference

Where: International Convention Centre, 14 Darling Dr, Sydney, Australia

When: November 6, 2019 03:50 pm

More info:

  Info here. In addition, an appearance on ABC Radio National's "Big Ideas" program on November 7 from 3.15 to 5.00 pm TBC

keynote, Seasons Retirement 2019 Conference

Where: Whistler, British Columbia

When: November 26, 2019 12:00 am

More info: Details here

talk, Future of Ageing conference, International Longevity Centre UK

Where: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE

When: December 5, 2019 09:30 am

More info: Details here.

talk + panel, Rancho Mirage Writers Festival

Where: Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, 71-100 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA

When: January 29, 2020 12:00 am

More info: Tickets are sold out.

keynote, Osher Institutes National Conference

Where: Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Florida

When: April 21, 2020 12:00 pm

More info:

Boston Public Library

Where: 700 Boylston Street (at Exeter), Commonwealth Salon

When: June 17, 2020 02:00 pm

More info: in collaboration with Beacon Hill Village; free and open to the public

keynote, American Alliance of Museums Creative Aging Convening

Where: High Museum, Atlanta, GA

When: November 5, 2020 12:00 am

More info:


Past Appearances


interview, Theonera’s Work. Passion. Fit. podcast

interview, Theonera’s Work. Passion. Fit. podcast

August 5, 2019

Link here.



July 28, 2019

Link here.

podcast, the Wendi Cooper Show

podcast, the Wendi Cooper Show

July 22, 2019

Link here.

keynote, UN Stakeholder Group on Ageing

keynote, UN Stakeholder Group on Ageing

July 9, 2019

Link here. Segment begins at 6:00

article, Warwick Beacon

article, Warwick Beacon

June 25, 2019

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.


Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016

Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016

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. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was self-published in March, 2016 and will be published on the inaugural list of Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc. in March, 2019.



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