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Ashton Applewhite

“At your age” is the new “Girls don’t.” We don’t have to listen to that either.

This guest post is by Shannon West, a 68-year-old fitness professional working to empower older women to see their potential, and a music blogger who believes older musicians are often the ones on the cutting edge. This is her spin on a viral social media post that struck her as suggesting that older women should resign themselves to the fact that their best days were over, so she “took a shot.” Shannon lives in Jacksonville, FL, and can be reached at  ShannonWest0201 [at] gmail [dot] com.

To all my female friends who have passed our cultural expiration date which by now I think is…like…25. (see Amy Schumer’s brilliant “Last F***able Day” video). We get told we are at that age where we see wrinkles and are destined to have saggy muscles and put on extra body fat. We read it in a women’s magazine see it on TV so it must be true. Right? We see cute 25-year-olds, especially in movies, TV shows, and other media, because there are so few multidimensional roles for older women. So we reminisce, because we have been told that our 20s are the last decade in our lives where we can be attractive, fashionable, and adventurous. We have been told that the synonym for vibrant, engaged, forward thinking, healthy, adventurous, empowered, and creative is “young” even though those qualities are actually available to everybody. We hear that we should consider qualities like wisdom and experience the lesser cards we are dealt as we drift into invisibility, even though both are valuable and some of us are still a long way from getting the “wisdom” part down, although our life experiences have definitely given us a sense of accomplishment, perspective, and confidence in our ability to navigate the messy unpredictability that life brings.

Many of us see ourselves as warriors in the quiet and survivors. It’s time to let go of the quiet and engage our warrior spirit in the act of questioning everything our youth-obsessed culture has told us about growing older and actively seeking change on both a personal and political level. It is time to ask why we feel bad about getting older and why we see our growth and years of experience as a process of decline and increasing limitations. Who made these rules? Who said we had to live under them? Should we honor the wishes of advertising agencies and the “anti-aging” industry that create and exploit our fear of aging into a multibillion dollar industry? Should we take as truth research that says we must become sedentary and rapidly decline at a specific birthday when it was conducted in a previous century on older adults whose life experiences were so different from ours today?

We need to actively combat ageism and age stereotyping, first by looking inward and seeing how we are affected personally. Is what we are being told really our personal truth? Are we being pressured to limit our vision of who we are? Then we have to actively challenge ageism everywhere—in the workplace, in our relationships, in what we are told about how we dress and how we “should” wear our hair, in how we take care of our bodies, in how we move through the world. We may choose to ease into elderhood in the traditional way or we may choose to run an Ultra at 65. The path you choose is the path that is fine for you. It is the ability to create and walk our own path instead of being forced onto someone else’s idea of what our path should be that matters. We have the skills to do this. We were the ones who grew up with “girls don’t”. We didn’t listen to that. “At your age” is the new “Girls don’t.” We don’t have to listen to that either. Start on Ashton Applewhite’s groundbreaking This Chair Rocks website, and be sure to check out the Resources area.

OK, people

I’m barely back from a tour of Australia sponsored by EveryAGE Counts, their terrific national anti-ageism campaign. It was fascinating to look from another continent at how views on age and age bias are changing around the world.

While I was in Oz, the #OKBoomer meme broke the internet—ageland’s little corner of it, at least. One accelerant was the use of the phrase in Parliament by a young New Zealand politician, Chloë Swarbrick, to rebut an older colleagues after the man heckled her during a speech about the climate crisis. As Swarbrick explained in a subsequent essay in the Guardian, the remark was an “off-the-cuff, albeit symbolic of the collective exhaustion of multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time.”

Every generation points fingers at the one that came before it and finds fault with the generation that follows (“kids these days”). But young people are coming of age at a time of profound uncertainty, in anxious times we look for scapegoats, and they do have it harder than their parents did. I was born in 1952, right in the middle of the bulge in the proverbial python. Youngers have many reasons to envy my generation’s extreme demographic good fortune, and it is tempting to frame us as the enemy. The song that started it all described boomers as racist, fascist Trump supporters with bad hair. It’s tempting to rise to that hateful bait—ageism cuts both ways—or to go on the defensive. Then everyone loses, and the planet smolders. Bushfires destroyed millions of acres during my few weeks in Australia.

The old are not the enemy and age is not the issue. As historian Holly Scott pointed out in the Washington Post, the problem with #OKBoomer is that “generational divides distract from deeper questions of power.” And privilege. The issue is inequality, which does not discriminate by age. What stands between us and a more equitable world are the structures and systems that benefit from oppression—racism, sexism, ageism and all the rest—because prejudice pits us against each other in order to maintain the status quo. Like auto workers in the US competing against auto workers in Mexico instead of organizing for better wages, pitting young against old is a time-honored tactic used to divide people who might otherwise unite to change things.

OK, boomers: it’s time to reach across the “generational divide,” itself a myth promoted by the mainstream media. It’s time to really listen to what youngers have to say and figure out how to work together. It’s time to act like ancestors—because the stakes have never been higher.

The Fruits of Ageism

This guest post is by Barbara Lynn Kail, Associate Professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. She has taught social welfare policy for over 20 years there.  She also currently collaborates with Perre Tarres Faculty of Social Education and Social Work in Barcelona. This permits her to follow another passion, the antiageism movement and current developments in Spain.  Please send any questions or comments to her at kail@fordham.edu.

Generation Z’ers, could I please have a few minutes of your time. 

I’ve only recently become aware of the term “OK Boomer,” after reading an article in the Style section of the New York Times.

Both our generations seem to be engaging in the worst aspects of ageism. In fact, “ok boomer” seems to have polarized us even further.  One radio host compared it to the n-word, while the New York Post asks why Gen Z hates Boomers.  Is this, as the New York Times says, a declaration of war?

You rightly protest that members of my generation are :

  • Destroying the world as we know it with our environmental policies.
  • Using money and power to maintain the status quo and a privileged position.
  • Hurting future generations through selfishness and short-sightedness.
  • Not to be trusted.

In short, we Boomers just don’t “get it.” 

Well, these accusations sound really familiar.  As a Boomer, I vividly recall charging my parents’ generation with :

  • Destroying the world with nuclear bombs and our foreign policy in Viet Nam.  We are on the eve of destruction!
  • Using blatant racism and sexism  to ensure those who had money and  power held on to it…
  • at the expense of our generation and future generations – the Greatest Generation was not so great.
  • Breaking our trust… anyone over thirty!

I too engaged in gross generalizations, and Mom and Dad were never going to “get it.” 

Boomers, at least some of us, may honestly “get” where you Gen Z’ers are coming from.  In many respects your concerns are my concerns and have been since I was a teenager.  Engaging in wholesale characterizations of each generation causes us to miss an opportunity to join forces.  Just for starters – we can offer experience in grass roots organizing and building a social movement;  you have honed the use of social media to a fine art.  Recognizing the destructiveness of ageism could go a long way. Together, we could focus our efforts far more effectively and fight those of any generation who are afraid of change and revel in a status quo that is truly not sustainable.

Please tell me, ok boomer!

a progressive falls into the trap of scapegoating “the old”

The New York Times devoted much of this week’s Sunday Opinion section to a staggeringly ageist article, “Out With the Old, In With the Young” by Astra Taylor, which blames “young people’s inability to effect change” on a “hoary establishment.” As I’ve explained in the Guardian (How did old people become political enemies of the young?), pitting old against young is wrong-headed for countless reasons.

Seeing the New York Times embrace this line of thinking is distressing; seeing a progressive activist like Taylor fall into the trap is even more so. Most younger lefties, of whom Taylor is among the most eloquent, don’t seem to take ageism seriously, perhaps because they have yet to acknowledge their own internalized bias. As I see it, hitching age to the intersectional sled, so to speak, is critically important if we are to join forces against all the problems facing the planet today.  I’d love to have a public conversation about it.

Here’s my Letter to the Editor:

It’s true that older people have more power and millennials too little. Likewise, men have more power than women, and white people more than people of color. The driver of this inequity, however, is not age, or race, or gender. The fundamental driver is capitalism, which perpetuates itself by privileging one group over another.

Those in power are mostly older, male, and white because they benefit from racism, sexism, patriarchy, and all the other mechanisms that disempower the rest of us. It is not because they’re old. Likewise, their priorities are a function of their privilege and the ideology that sustains it—not their age. Class, gender, and race all predict voting behavior better than age does.

Yes, we should absolutely lower the voting age and further enfranchise younger people, but frame these measures as pro-equity, not anti-old. Prejudice pits us against each other, and ageism is no exception. In a world riven by deep divisions of class, race, and gender, we cannot afford to add age to the mix.

* * *

For a more detailed analysis of Taylor’s “logically flawed and stunningly ageist article,” read this post in Yo, Is This Ageist? by my very smart colleague and policy wonk, Paul Kleyman,

ageism takes center stage on the International Day of Older Persons

Three years ago I had the honor of addressing the United Nations on the International Day of Older Persons, which is celebrated annually around the world on October 1. In my talk, which I called End Ageism – Or the Rest is Noise, I made a passionate case for confronting ageism in every domain — health, education, employment, and human rights, to name just a few — as a prerequisite to making the most of longer lives.

Three years later, it’s been incredibly exciting to witness individuals and organizations around the world doing exactly that, and see #ExposeAgeism trending on Twitter. Here are just a few examples:

The evidence is everywhere: a global movement to #ExposeAgeism is underway. Australia is leading the way with its EveryAGE Counts campaign, which is bringing me over for a national, three-week tour in November. You’ll find more initiatives in the CAMPAIGNS section of Old School, a clearinghouse of free, vetted anti-ageism resources. YESSSS!

Consciousness-raising for Ageism while Fighting Other “isms”

This guest post is by Mica Wilson, a marketing and communications professional living in New Rochelle, NY, who has over 30 years of experience in corporate and non-profit organizations. Mica loves to travel around the world gaining perspective on other people’s cultures and struggles, especially those of women and girls. She is currently developing a cross-generational podcast that provides advice and insights for professional women. Please send any questions or comments to Mica at DameTalk4 [at] gmail [dot] com.

On any given day I may experience various forms of prejudice, or “isms”. I am Black, a woman, and looking for a job at 55. I have been inspired to share my personal story after reading Who me, ageist?” A guide to starting a consciousness-raising group around age bias: by Ashton Applewhite. I hope that what I share will motivate those in “power” to join the ageism movement. I define “power”, as those who can make decisions about who they hire, the stories that get told to us through the media, and the policies that are put in place to protect vulnerable and marginalized people. I call out those in power because they have the ability to accelerate change.

Ageism is a unifier because it affects everyone. You face it as a young person when your thoughts and opinions are dismissed because you are “too young” to know anything. Or you may be considered “too old” to add value in the workplace or contribute to society. No matter your sex, race, religion, or sexual identity, you will face ageism. History has shown us there is strength in numbers. The civil rights movement would not have advanced in the same way without the support of non-Black people, and the women’s rights movement was a beneficiary. The ageism movement deserves the same momentum and support.

I must confess, I struggle with focusing on ageism because racism and sexism play such a dominant role in my everyday life. I’m affected by not just my personal experiences, but also by close friend’s experiences, and what I see on TV and read in the news every single day. The stories are rarely positive about people like me. Black man killed by police, Black man arrested then tied to a rope and forced to walk down the street with policemen on horses, Black women make 63 cents to every dollar white men make, there has never been a woman president, NYC has never had a woman mayor, and it goes on and on and on. Every day several stories in the news make me question my value and worth in America. So, when I apply for that job and get no response is it because of my skills, race, sex, or age? It doesn’t help that marketing and communications is considered a “young person’s game”. Whatever the answer is I have to continue living, working, and finding happiness like any other American.

As you get older, your network can make or break you in the job market. To be considered for an opportunity, at minimum you need to know someone who can send your resume directly to HR or a hiring manager. It’s nirvana if you know someone at a senior level who can make the hiring decision or influence it. In this scenario, who gets hurt the most? You got it, Black women. Our network generally does not include enough senior level men or women to help us get that job. When we do know someone, they aren’t always willing to put themselves out there for us. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. In almost every job I’ve gotten, African-American women and men made sure I was considered for the position. Interestingly enough, they were all in my age group, which I believe speaks to how my support network was limited… Black women and men my age.

It’s important to me that anyone I interact with feels respected and heard. Therefore, when I am around younger people, I make sure our communication is a two-way street. I impart my wisdom to help them avoid some of the minefields I’ve been through. But I also learn from them, whether tech tips, new music, or their perspective on what’s happening in the world today. This allows me to not get stuck in my pre-conceived notions. I’m not a fan of today’s hip-hop, but my nieces introduced me to Lizzo. Yes, while there is some profanity in her music that I prefer not to hear, she is about empowering young women. Her recent call to action was for people to drop the ageism sh**t for the 2020 election. Her lyrics have a powerful message, she speaks out against ageism, she gets it. I have respect for her and I’m now a fan.

I will continue to do my part in the ageism movement. That means where I have influence, I will make sure you are heard and valued no matter how old you happen to be. To that end, I’ve started a podcast where four generations of women including a Millennial and a Gen Z have a seat at the table. Here is my ask to Millennials and Gen Z: join the ageism movement and make sure by the time you reach 50 you have done your part to raise the consciousness of those around you at work and home.  My request to those who are in a decision-making position or participate in the hiring process: ensure that your pool of candidates contains at least one person over 50. If you’re in marketing and communications and the candidate happens to be an African-American woman named Mica Wilson…you just hit the jackpot.

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 suffering.

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.