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  • John Aigner

Ageism: Still the Invisible Barrier?

How can we confront and combat ageism?

Ageism: Uncovering an Invisible Barrier

Ageism is a form of prejudice that involves stereotyping, discriminating against, or marginalizing individuals on the basis of their age. Ageism can manifest in various ways, including in the workplace, healthcare, media, and personal relationships. In this article, we will explore different examples of ageism, provide stories that illustrate these examples, and discuss ways to identify and combat ageism.

In the Workplace

Ageism in the workplace is one of the most common forms of ageism. It can take various forms, such as denying employment opportunities or promotions, pay discrimination, and job termination. Ageism in the workplace can be challenging to identify, as it is often subtle and covert. However, here are some examples that illustrate ageism in the workplace.

Story 1: Marie's Experience

M Arie had worked for the same company for over 20 years, and she was an excellent performer who consistently exceeded her targets. However, after turning 60, she noticed that she was not getting the same opportunities for promotion as her younger colleagues. She also noticed that she was not getting invited to meetings or social events as frequently as she used to. One day, her supervisor informed her that she was being laid off due to "restructuring," but she later found out that her job was given to a younger person who was paid less.

This story illustrates the subtle yet pervasive nature of ageism in the workplace. Marie was an excellent performer who had worked for the same company for over two decades, but her age became a factor in her employer's decision to lay her off.

Age Bias in Recruitment

Age bias can also manifest in recruitment and hiring processes. Some employers may have a preference for younger candidates, assuming they are more tech-savvy or energetic. This bias can result in older job seekers being overlooked, despite their skills and experience.

For example, a job advertisement that states "recent graduates preferred" or "looking for a young, dynamic team player" could be considered ageist. In contrast, a job advertisement that focuses on the necessary skills and experience rather than age is less likely to be ageist.

In Healthcare

Ageism can also manifest in healthcare, where older adults may receive substandard care due to negative age stereotypes or assumptions about their ability to recover from illnesses. Ageism in healthcare can lead to older adults receiving less aggressive treatment, less pain management, or inadequate screening for diseases.

Story 2: Mrs. Brown's Experience

Mrs. Brown (name changed), an 85-year-old woman, visited her doctor complaining of severe pain in her hip. The doctor dismissed her pain, assuming it was just age-related and prescribed painkillers. However, Mrs. Brown's pain worsened, and she eventually went to another doctor who diagnosed her with a fractured hip that required immediate surgery.

This story highlights the importance of healthcare providers not dismissing older adults' symptoms as just age-related. A thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment should be provided, regardless of the patient's age. This story also illustrated the need for seniors and boomers to become advocates for themselves in their relationships with the professionals who presumably serve them.

In Media

The media can also perpetuate ageism by portraying older adults as frail, dependent, or unproductive. This portrayal can reinforce negative age stereotypes and contribute to ageism in society.

Story 3: Ageist Advertising

Advertisements can also perpetuate ageism by focusing on age-related products, such as anti-aging creams, or portraying older adults as less competent or desirable. For example, a car commercial that features a young couple driving a sports car and implies that the car is not suitable for older adults is ageist.

In Personal Relationships

Ageism can also manifest in personal relationships, where age is used to belittle or patronize individuals. This behavior can take various forms, such as jokes about age, assumptions about interests and abilities based on age, or comments about "acting your age."


Ageism in Romantic Relationships

Ageism can also manifest in romantic relationships, where age can be used to justify unequal power dynamics or to dismiss the value of older partners. For example, a younger partner may be viewed as more desirable or attractive, while an older partner may be seen as less fun or energetic. This bias can contribute to age gaps being viewed as inherently problematic or taboo, regardless of the individuals involved.

Identifying Ageism

Now that we have explored different examples of ageism, it's essential to understand how to identify ageism when it occurs. Ageism can often be subtle and difficult to detect, but here are some signs to look out for:

  • Stereotyping: Ageism often involves making assumptions about individuals based on their age, such as assuming they are less competent, less productive, or less desirable.

  • Exclusion: Ageism can also manifest in excluding older adults from social events or opportunities based on age, such as not inviting them to a social gathering or denying them job opportunities or promotions.

  • Language: Ageism can also manifest in language, such as using derogatory terms or age-related slurs.

  • Unequal Treatment: Ageism can also involve treating older adults differently than younger adults in the same situation, such as providing substandard healthcare or denying access to services.

Combating Ageism

Combating ageism requires a collective effort to challenge negative age stereotypes and promote positive images of aging. Here are some ways to combat ageism:

  • Education: Raising awareness about ageism and its harmful effects can help combat negative age stereotypes and promote more positive attitudes towards aging.

  • Language: Avoid using derogatory terms or age-related slurs and instead use language that promotes inclusivity and respect for individuals of all ages.

  • Inclusion: Promote inclusion and diversity by including individuals of all ages in social events, job opportunities, and other activities.

  • Representation: Promote positive representations of aging in media and popular culture, such as showcasing older adults in meaningful and productive roles.

  • Advocacy: Advocate for policies and programs that promote the rights and dignity of older adults, such as healthcare access and age-friendly communities.


Ageism is a pervasive and insidious form of prejudice that can manifest in various aspects of society, from the workplace to personal relationships. Ageism can be subtle and challenging to detect, but it's essential to identify and combat it to promote positive attitudes towards aging and ensure that older adults are treated with respect and dignity.

By promoting inclusion, education, and representation, we can challenge negative age stereotypes and promote a more age-inclusive society. Older adults must learn to play pivotal leadership role in combatting ageism in the same way that people of color and non-binary populations have played leadership roles in their own liberation struggles.

In the mental health field, where I spent many years, the peer movement had a clear motto relating to this concept. “Nothing about us, without us.” It distresses me that so much of the professional output regarding seniors is dished by thirty-somethings. Can we do something about this? Where is our “elder peer movement”?

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