What Is Ageism?

abramson_betsy-199x300SAIL is thrilled to have Betsy Abramson, a leading expert on healthy aging, as our guest speaker for our May 15 Spring Luncheon.  She is currently the Executive Director for the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging (WIHA).  In her role there, Betsy oversees all program development and activities, budget, partner development and program advocacy. She also serves on the Executive Committee with their research partner, CAARN (Community-Academic Aging Research Network). A lifelong Wisconsin resident with both undergrad and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Betsy has over 30 years of experience in Wisconsin’s aging network, previously as a public interest elder law attorney.

Here’s a neat statistic from the WIHA website: People with a positive perception of aging are likely to live 7.5 more years (and those people are likely to be in a health promotion program.) At SAIL, we are big fans of positive perceptions of aging! 

But one thing that can get in the way of a positive perception of aging is something called ageism. You may have heard the term, and Betsy will give us information at our meeting. In the meantime, here are some things to look at if you want to start learning now, or be ready with questions for Betsy.

What is ageism? 

According to Wikipedia, “ageism is stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined “ageism” as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageism)

How prevalent is ageism? 

According to the World Health Organization, “Ageism is widely prevalent and stems from the assumption that all members of a group ( for example older adults) are the same. Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people that have influence, assign meaning to how we look. In 2014, governments around the world recognized ageism as “the common source of, the justification for, and the driving force behind age discrimination.

Negative ageist attitudes are widely held across societies and not confined to one social or ethnic group. Research suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism. This has serious consequences both for older people and society at large. For example, ageism limits the questions that are asked and the way problems are conceptualized and is hence a major barrier to developing good policies.”(https://www.who.int/ageing/ageism/en/)

What are some examples of ageism? 

There are countless examples of ageism, ranging from small everyday expressions to actual dangerous practices. They include:

  • “Anti-aging” products
  • Describing minor forgetfulness as a “senior moment”
  • Praising older people by comparing them to younger ones: “You look good for [your age],” “You’re young at heart” or “Inside, I feel 30 years younger.”
  • Undertreating or condescending to older people in healthcare 
  • Telling people they are too old to do, wear, or participate in certain things

…and much more. At SAIL, we believe in older adults living active, independent, connected lives, and therefore ageism is NOT okay with us! 

What can I do to fight against ageism? 

We are lucky to have Betsy Abramson at our luncheon on May 15th, as she will have lots of resources. But if you can’t make it that day, or want to get a head start, here are some resources to read and watch.

Make your voice heard! Congress is currently considering many issues that affect the lives of seniors and their service providers. We need your help to make sure Congress hears how their actions impact you. Please take a moment to contact your representatives and make your voice heard.  Go to this page for instructions. 


Why is Ageism acceptable? (Comfort Life) 
Fighting Ageism (American Psychological Association) 
Fighting Ageism: Be Bold, Claim Old (Changingaging.org)
How fighting ageism may lower dementia risk (Medical News Today)
Ageism In Action? Ageism Inaction! (American Society On Aging)
7 Ways to Overcome Ageism (Everyday Health)

These videos should play on any device through YouTube. 

Ashton Applewhite’s TED Talk: “Let’s End Ageism” 
Interview with Kristen Jacobs of Leading Age
Slideshow on Ageism (click arrows to advance the slides)
The Harmful Effects of Ageism (Huffington Post)
What is AGEISM? (The Autopedia) 

Ashton Applewhite has taken the world by storm by speaking out against ageism

Books: (Links go to the Amazon.com page for each book. Check with SAIL to see if we have any of these books in our library!) 

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
Disrupt Aging by Jo Ann Jenkins
Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette
Treat Me, Not My Age by Mark Lachs, M.D.

Blogs (updated with new articles periodically): 

This Chair Rocks (Click “Blog” on the left-hand side of the website) – Ashton Applewhite
Yo, Is This Ageist? (Click “Yo, Is This Ageist” on the left-hand side of the website) -Ashton Applewhite

We are looking forward to seeing SAIL members at our luncheon and annual meeting on May 15th! You can register on our website at http://www.sailtoday.org. Check-in will start at 11:30 with lunch at noon and the program to follow. The menu options will be available soon; a gluten-free option is always included. Friends are welcome! 


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