Ageism: What It Is and 4 Ways to Fight It

Younger employee speaking down to an older woman employee.

They say that “age is just a number,” but for many people, inaccurate stereotypes make aging feel like something they should try to avoid.

According to the World Health Organization, “Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) toward others or oneself based on age.”

Ageism can affect people of all ages, but in our culture that tends to glorify youth, it’s often directed toward older people. Sometimes ageism is on the surface a joke, but those jokes are rooted in age-based negativity (think “over the hill” birthday cards and “ok, boomer” digs). Ageist messaging is also passed through movies that portray older people as clueless and through commercials that depict grey hairs and wrinkles as unattractive things to correct.

According to, there are three main types of ageism:

  1. Interpersonal ageism takes place between individuals.
  2. Self-directed ageism is when an internalized negative attitude about age causes self-doubt and a negative perception of oneself.
  3. Institutional ageism happens when social norms, practices and rules are unfair to older adults.

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There are real consequences of ageism for older adults. One study shows that older adults who embody a negative self-perception of aging live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude. Ageism is also shown to be linked to poorer physical health, increased risky behaviors, poorer mental health, and lower quality of life.

Ageism against older adults can be blatant, but oftentimes it’s subtle, nuanced and difficult to detect, which can make it difficult to fight.  However, it’s important for us all to promote more positive aging because age-based negativity will harm everyone who has the fortune of living a long life. In honor of Older Americans Month, let’s explore four ways to combat ageism in your day-to-day life.

1. Recognize the Value of Every Life Stage

Whether you’re young, middle-aged or a senior, understand that all seasons of life serve a purpose—and each season is equally important. Practicing mindfulness, embracing change, nurturing your health, having genuine connections, and staying positive are all ways you can maintain an inner peace as you age.

2. Treat Older Family Members With Dignity

Help your older loved ones know they matter by valuing their wishes and needs just like everyone else. When you display this type of respect for your elders, younger generations will take note and treat you the same when you’re older.

Read our article about the rise of multigenerational living.

3. Call Out Ageism When You See It

If someone makes an ageist comment or joke, bring it to their attention. Sometimes a simple question like, “What do you mean by that?” or, “Can you explain why that’s funny?” can open a discussion and highlight why something is ageist. If you notice institutional ageism at work or somewhere else, bring it to the attention of leadership or someone who can help.

Check out these 10 part-time jobs to supplement retirement income.

4. Form Intergenerational Friendships

When you only spend time with people your own age, it can fuel age segregation and ageism. Form intergenerational friendships by getting involved in age-diverse social groups or community events. When you get to know people of other ages, you’ll better understand the perspectives of other generations.

Want more? Check out our blog, Life Insurance for the Elderly: How to Find the Right Policy.

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