In 1968 Dr. Robert Butler coined the term “ageism” to describe the systematic discrimination against older people. He equated it to racism and sexism during the Civil Rights movement. Fifty years later our culture has not changed. Ageism remains an often-overlooked barrier that exists across most communities in the US. Ageism puts unfair limitations on older adults’ abilities to live to their fullest potential and devalues them as individuals.
Ageism is evident in our stereotypes of older adults. Who hasn’t uttered the words, “What a cute old lady?” or felt pity at the sight of an older man working in a grocery store. While it may seem harmless or even affectionate, looking at a person and only seeing his or her age ultimately influences our actions.
Ageism is experienced in the workplace; unemployed older adults are likely to remain unemployed twice as long as their younger counterparts. It is felt through the deep cuts to funding for programs designed to keep older adults healthy and active. Ageism is found in healthcare when symptoms are passed off as “normal aging”. It even becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for older adults themselves.
We need an attitude change to reverse this discrimination and see people for who they are, what they have accomplished and what they will accomplish. Research demonstrates that older workers have more knowledge and expertise in their positions. They bring perspective and stability to their performance. They have higher productivity ratings, lower absentee ratings; and fewer Workers Compensation claims. Workers 55+ complete work-training programs at a higher rate than younger counter-parts and remain on the job 15 years, on average, after completing training.
A recent AARP study concluded that Americans age 50 and up contribute so much to the U.S. economy, through both economic and unpaid activities, that they’d constitute the world’s third-largest economy if they were counted as their own country. This includes the oldest in our communities - according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 24.8% of adults 73 and older volunteer, contributing services valued at an estimated $19.2 billion.
As part of our mission to advocate for independence, we are committed to building awareness, breaking down stereotypes and challenging unfair policies. We invite you to partner with us by learning more and advocating for older adults in our communities. Our ultimate goal is to bring back the belief that aging is a natural part of life and not a problem to be solved – we hope you’ll join us.