The fastest growing population in the United States involves people over the age of 85; nearly 300 million Americans are over 65 years old, and that number is expected to double by 2030 (Dittmann, 2003.) Despite their significant numbers, however, frequently the elderly find themselves to be unappreciated and devalued. Ageism is the process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old (Ageism, 2011.) This paper will discuss the problem of ageism, giving examples of typical demonstrations of this phenomenon.
Given society’s emphasis on youth and beauty, it is not surprising that older Americans find themselves the object of ridicule and condescension when going about their daily lives. In this culture, growing older is frequently equated with deterioration and impairment, when in fact, many older people defy the stereotypes by engaging in challenging physical activities such as bicycling, running, whitewater rafting, and other pasttimes that are most commonly viewed as undertaken by a younger population. Negative attitudes towards the elderly are thought to have an impact on their longevity; a study published by the American Psychological Association found that older people who had a positive self image lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who had a negative attitude towards getting older (Aging in America, 2004.)
I react to examples of ageism, both as portrayed in media accounts as well as in everyday life, with offense rather than amusement, for several reasons: I have family members who are older, as I will be someday, and I feel insulted on their behalf when they are portrayed with ridicule. The people that I know who are elderly have much to offer in the way of wisdom,kindness, and companionship, since I have truly enjoyed spending time with these people. It is easy to spot the discrimination and stereotypical attitudes towards older people when one considers that advertisers are completely focused on attracting a younger population to purchase their products. Even though people of all ages drink beer and purchase automobiles, the ads in newspapers and on television typically feature young actors and models (Ageism in America, 2004.) Indeed, the only time that older people are seen in advertisements are for products such as Viagra and medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Another area in which ageism appears consistently is in greeting cards: they are often called “over the hill” products, featuring coffins, prune juice, and other items that make fun of the sex drive, physical prowess, and mental capacity of older people. In addition, topics that are covered by newspapers are also frequently directed towards a younger readership, rather than including articles that would be of interest to more seniors. Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one can observe that the physical setting in many places such as restaurants, theaters, and stadiums are not particularly accommodating to an older population that might have mobility difficulties. On television, comedy shows often portray older people as clumsy, out of touch, and easy to mock; although I am a fan of Saturday Night Live, many of the skits that feature older characters present them as silly, grumpy, unable to see or hear well, and generally nuisances that get in the way of the other characters in the sketches.
Ageism also exists in the area of workplace discrimination, when older candidates for positions are consistently rejected in favor of younger workers. The stereotype that the younger person may be more physically appropriate and personally suited to work with the public may in fact be completely opposite from the reality: older people are not necessarily physically frail, and are often more courteous and kind, less flippant, then a younger person who may feel perfectly entitled to be rude or apathetic to customers.
Ageism. (2011, September 22). Retrieved January 7, 2012, from National Center on Elder Abuse: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/NCEAroot/Main_Site/Library/CANE/CANE_Series/CANE_ageism.aspx
Ageism in America. (2004, September 7). Retrieved January 7, 2012, from MSNBC.com: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5868712/ns/health-aging/t/ageism-america/#.TweBYFawW0k
Dittmann, M. (2003, May). Fighting Ageism. Retrieved January 7, 2012, from American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/may03/fighting.aspx
Ageism is the disliking of aging and older people based on the belief that aging makes people unattractive, unintelligent, and unproductive. It is an emotional prejudice or discrimination against people based solely on age. This allows the younger population to separate themselves physically and emotionally from the old and to view older adults as having less human value.
In a 1-page document, explain your thoughts and perspective on the topic of ageism. Do you view ageism as being offensive or more humorous? Give three examples of everyday ageism that we see on a day-to-day basis.
Reference to not be from books