Academic journal article Generations

Self-Empowerment in Later Life as a Response to Ageism

Academic journal article Generations

Self-Empowerment in Later Life as a Response to Ageism

Article excerpt

Standing up to negative age bias can be a powerful first step toward having a fulfilling and productive Third Chapter of life.

Ageism is alive and well, with old-age stereotypes lurking in public and private institutions. From the water cooler to the webpage, negative age bias is frustratingly prevalent. For older individuals, recognizing the current reality is a difficult, yet necessary, first step toward self-empowerment. Those who take that step position themselves to make their later years as productive and purposeful as they can be.

Evidence of Ageism Abounds

In a recent New York Times editorial, Anne Karpf said, "Older people are likely to be seen as a burden and a drain on resources, rather than as a resource in themselves. . . . Such 'gerontophobia' is harmful because we internalize it. Ageism has been described as prejudice against one's future self. It tells us that age is our defining characteristic and that, as midnight strikes on a milestone birthday, we will become nothing but old-emptied of our passions, abilities and experience-infused instead with frailty and decline" (Karpf, 2015).

A Yale study of Facebook underscored the problem. The authors analyzed each publicly accessible Facebook group that concentrated on older adults (Levy et al., 2014). Of the eighty-four groups analyzed, all but one of the site descriptions focused on negative age stereotypes. Seventy-four percent excoriated older individuals, 27 percent infantilized them, and 37 percent advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping. As the authors suggested, "Facebook has the potential to break down barriers between generations; in practice, it may have erected new ones."

In "An Inconvenienced Youth? Ageism and Its Potential Intergenerational Roots," Michael North and Susan Fiske (2012) wrote, "In the modern world, older people face reduced social and economic opportunities, damage to self-esteem, and exacerbated physical health problems, to name only a few consequences of ageist treatment."

Ageism is not just based on poor information. It's morally wrong. It impedes opportunity for older workers and for those who seek work. It exacerbates financial insecurity for a population that wishes and needs to remain engaged. It elevates costly health risks for older adults and the broader society. Ageism's practical consequences are real, experienced all too often by those who can least afford to be sidelined.

Ageism in the Workplace

The effects of ageism are particularly concerning at a time in which baby boomers have new expectations about work and retirement. Two-thirds of baby boomers plan to work past age 65, or do not plan to retire at all, according to Catherine Collinson (2014) of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. How will they realize their aspirations?

Paradoxically, ageism may frustrate the opportunity to fully realize the benefits of this emerging resource of human capital. A research report from AARP (2013) found that approximately two-thirds of workers ages 45 to 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Of those, a remarkable 92 percent say age discrimination is very, or somewhat, common.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, in an interview with CNN's Christine Romans, said, "I have spoken to many long-term unemployed people who have expressed the strong belief that their age has been a barrier to re-employment" (Romans, 2014).

In their article, "Age Discrimination and the Great Recession," David Neumark and Patrick Button (2014) concluded that despite statutory age discrimination protections, "Increasing unemployment duration for older workers has led to speculation that age discrimination may have played a role. Increased discrimination due to poor labor markets might be expected because long queues of job applicants allow employers to apply more arbitrary selection criteria when making hiring decisions."

What Will It Take to Change? …

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