The Problem of Ageism

The Problem Of Ageism

Few seniors would argue that ageism does not exist in society. MedicalNewsToday reports that 82% of American seniors surveyed in a 2020 National Poll claimed they experience ageism on a regular basis. 

Typically, ageism is associated with discrimination and linked to a negative impact on the physical and mental health of seniors. While aging is inevitable, there is no requirement that seniors accept anything less than equitable treatment in the workplace, marketplace, healthcare arena, or at family gatherings. 

What is Ageism?

Any discussion of ageism is inconclusive without a definition to begin the conversation. The World Health Organization defines ageism as the stereotypes and prejudicial thoughts that promote discrimination based on a person’s age. While ageism is typically associated with a bias against older people, ageism can also describe a bias against younger people or children. 

No one is immune to this way of thinking. Based on our culture, family and friends’ views, we are all indoctrinated with certain ideas about what it means to be older from a very early age. Cultures vary significantly in the way they treat seniors. 

Japan, Korea, China, and Latin countries make family a priority. Honoring older family members is expected and customary. Conversely, the U.S. and U.K. idealize independence and youth linking a person’s status largely to their ability to work and contribute financially. The Protestant Work Ethic contributes to this bias. These attitudes contribute to the lonely lives of many seniors who often spend later years away from their families in nursing homes or retirement communities. 

4 Types of Ageism

Institutional Ageism

The problem of ageism is often categorized by where the discrimination takes place or whether the bias is conscious or unintended. For example, institutional ageism occurs when an institution promotes discrimination as the result of its official policies and actions. For example, a policy of forced retirement at a specified age that is enforced by a church or school qualifies as an ageist policy. The idea that when a certain age is reached a person is suddenly incapable of performing their work duties is inherently biased. 

Interpersonal Ageism

This type of discrimination usually occurs between two people or a larger group as the result of a bias. This painful rejection can be from coworkers, family members, neighbors or friends based on preconceived ideas about a person’s age. For example, older neighbors in their 50s may be conspicuously left off the guest list for a neighborhood party hosted by thirty-something neighbors. 

Explicit Ageism

Explicit ageism occurs when a person purposefully and knowingly discriminates against an older person due to their age. Referring to a person’s age with a nickname designed to point out their advanced age is an example of this type of blatant ageism. Being called an old man or grandma instead of by your name represents examples of this type of bias.

Implicit Ageism

When a person treats older and younger people differently, and it is unintentional, then they are guilty of implicit ageism. An example of this type of behavior is when a younger person assumes that a senior needs extra help figuring out new technology as compared to younger people. 

The Negative Consequences of Ageism


Ageism is not without devastating consequences. Time reports that seniors are denied access to healthcare and rationed, in some situations, based on their age. Additionally, older people report being excluded from clinical trials that offer hope for many seniors with a bad diagnosis. 

While healthcare is one of the ways seniors suffer the impact of ageism, the workplace is also fraught with discrimination. Older members of the workforce are likely to notice fewer opportunities for advancement as their hair turns gray. It is no secret that seniors who experience unemployment find it more difficult to get interviews and find a new job. 

Based on multiple studies on ageism, Time reports the negative findings listed below.

  • Shorter lifespan
  • Lack of quality social relationships
  • Increased mental illness
  • Physical illness
  • Cognitive impairment

The New York Times published findings that associated ageism with higher incidences of strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure. It is noteworthy that seniors in recovery with positive reinforcement and age beliefs recovered more quickly than their more negative peers. 

Ways to Fight Ageism

Like most things in life, ageism can be managed by seniors interested in leveling the playing field and living a full and satisfying life. 

Seniors that believe they have been victimized in the workplace should consider taking the following actions based on legal advice:

1. Talk the problem over with a supervisor.

2. AARP recommends that seniors document discriminatory comments and actions in writing with dates, times and details.

3. Hire a lawyer that specializes in representing employees in discrimination cases. 

4. Lodge a formal complaint with the company.

5. File an inquiry with the EEOC.

6. File a lawsuit.

Seniors control the way family members and friends treat them based on the way they present themselves to the world. The following recommendations put seniors in the driver’s seat as an active and contributing member of society.

  • Speak up and don’t let anyone minimize your voice.
  • Stay mentally and physically active. 
  • Be as independent as possible.
  • Exercise for improved physical and mental health. 
  • Volunteer.
  • Socialize with younger people.
  • Stay positive.


While ageism can creep into a senior’s life through no fault of their own, there are some steps that seniors can take to improve their lifestyle and the way others view them. By approaching life with a positive attitude and remaining active and involved in the community and workplace, ageism is less likely to impact mental and physical health.