The term ageism is defined as the unfair treatment, discrimination, and stereotyping of an individual or group because of their age. Unfortunately, negative attitudes are developed and targeted at a specific age group, which can have consequences in many aspects of life.

For instance, not only can ageism affect an individual’s job prospects, but it can also impact their quality of life. In response to the growing trend of ageism, laws have been enacted on both a federal and state level in order to combat this form of discrimination.

What Constitutes as Ageism?

As stated above, ageism can occur anywhere in numerous ways. How and when it happens is difficult to discern at times. A simple comment that might seem ordinary can have huge implications.

Do you ever wonder if that one comment from your coworker about needing hearing aids soon is meant in a negative manner? Or rather if you’ve been disregarded for a job promotion, even though you had the right qualifications, all because your boss favored a younger candidate? All of these examples constitute age discrimination.

Experiences such as these aren’t exclusive to your workplace, and you might be surprised to know this sort of behavior will occur with your family as well. It can get to the point where in some cases the senior is pushed to live in a senior home and abandoned by the family. While ageism is difficult to identify in most instances, there are ways of catching those behaviors early on.

Examples of Ageism

What are some of the common examples of ageism out there? Unbeknownst to you, it will happen in the most unlikely scenarios. Ageism and age discrimination will occur:

Job Qualification

A common trend that has been seen before is having employers post job positions with certain requirements. Any requirement that imposes an age limit or age range as the basis for hiring criteria doesn’t automatically make it wrong. The problem arises when an employer bars individuals over the age of 40 from applying.

Company Layoff

While a company layoff is a normal thing that happens within any industry, the potential for ageism is always high. How does it happen?

Suppose a company lays off a percentage of its workforce to cut back on costs, but it is later revealed that only the older employees were fired. In this instance, it is possible the company partook in age discrimination against its workers.

Although this might seem like something very obvious to somebody who’s paying attention, the occurrence and frequency at which this happens is astonishing.

Technological Misconceptions

By this point in your life, you’ve heard the stereotype about seniors not knowing how to use a computer, or any piece of modern technology. This is not only an insulting and humiliating concept to spread around, but it could also create an uncomfortable, toxic workplace.

Assuming that old people are automatically slow to understand new technology is wrong in itself. At the end of the day, anyone can learn anything if they adopt the right mindset and commit themselves to mastering the use of a technological device.

Employers Looking For Experience

Having years of experience goes a long when applying for any company. What is considered an advantage can become a crutch when employers enact specific wording that could exclude you from applying to the job for whatever reason.

For example, most companies are always looking for individuals with certain years of experience before being hired. When the companies impose year ranges such as 5-8 years of experience rather than 8+ years of experience, then it excludes an older demographic with more skills and experience from applying for the position.

Family Ageism

Finally, another issue that is seen across the United States is ageism within families. In this instance, ageism can be unknowingly committed contrary to the good intentions of younger family members.

We all know it is common for disabilities to be an underlying issue for the senior population as they get older. However, despite this trend, developing a disability doesn’t necessarily mean the individual can’t take care of themselves.

What typically happens is that some families deem that their older family members can’t take care of themselves, and as a result, the family will hire a caretaker to look over the senior, or send them to a nursing home. In reality, you’re eroding the seniors’ independence and making them dependent against their own desires.

These are just a few of the possible ageism outcomes elderly members face on a daily basis which only serves to undermine who they are as people at the end of the day.

The Impact of Ageism

The long-term impact that ageism can have on the body is immeasurable. Besides being able to cause mental anguish and stress on a senior’s mind, it can also cause untold physical effects.

For one thing, seniors are subject to the abuses and prejudice of their work environments and home life as a result of institutionalized prejudices. From depression to shortened life expectancies, the struggles that ageism imposes on our elderly population is not taken seriously enough.

Mental and Health Effects

Fighting ageism stereotypes can prove too much to handle for some seniors. The mental and physical effects it has on their bodies over a short and long term period of time can ultimately prove to be life-threatening.

By all means, stereotypes about age are ingrained into our heads from a very early age. These negative stereotypes contribute towards worsened memory and increased feelings of worthlessness that lead to a shortened lifespan. Furthermore, the effects of any existing conditions that began to appear during old age such as depression, isolation, and cognitive decline are only reinforced.

Correspondingly, it is also worth noting that any decline in a seniors’ mental and cognitive abilities will inadvertently affect their physical health as any form of physical activity lessens drastically. In effect, all of these factors come together to drastically decrease one’s quality of life since older adults begin to see their lives as pointless and not worth living.

Institutionalized and Systematic Effects

The concept of ageism is something that has coexisted with us since the beginning of our lives. Our response to the negative behaviors and actions towards a particular demographic often goes unquestioned. In addition to the health effects that ageism already has, the systemic and institutionalized effects are just as impactful.

For instance, societal perceptions towards the elderly can have long-lasting consequences in a senior’s life. Not only is their ability to find a job affected, but also their lives change based on how the world treats them. More often than not these negative prejudices affect the quality of life an individual lives, which results in several of the health effects stated above. Nevertheless, there are measures in place to combat all of these effects.

Protection Against Age Discrimination

Ageism has been a rampant problem for a while, but that doesn’t mean the government hasn’t enacted policies to combat this sort of prejudice and discrimination. With the passing of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the government has taken one step further towards dealing with actions that affect a senior’s livelihood.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

What does the Age Discrimination in Employment Act exactly do? This law was created with the purpose of forbidding discrimination of adults over the age of 40 and older. While the law may not protect those under the age of 40, there are some states that have taken action to protect those younger workers from discrimination as well. The law is broken down into these sections:

Work Environment Policies

In order to counteract ageism in workplace environments, the ADEA prohibits any form of discrimination in regard to employment. Whether it be in the hiring, pay, firing, promotion, training, and assignment process of the job this law prohibits employers from engaging in this sort of behavior.

Harassment Policies

When it comes to harassment policies in the workplace, the law focuses on the prevention of harassment because of one’s age. For something to constitute as harassment, there has to be a derogatory or offensive comment made pertaining to the person’s age. The law won’t focus on playful or teasing remarks unless the incident proves severe enough to create a hostile work environment or affect the employee’s status with the company.

Employer Policies

The ADEA deems any employment practice or procedure that targets adults over the age of 40 solely because of their age as illegal acts committed by the employer.