Ageism is discrimination or prejudicial beliefs based on a person’s age. Both young people and old people can be victims of ageism, and their likelihood of experiencing ageism is often circumstance-dependent. For example, a teenager whose well-researched ideas are dismissed by an adult might be experiencing ageism while a qualified older person not hired by a trendy technology company could also be a victim of ageism.
Ageism is not always a form of discrimination. For example, not allowing a two-year-old to drive a car is not ageism. Instead, ageism occurs when a person is otherwise qualified to do something but his or her age acts as a barrier, or when people are unfairly stereotyped based on their age. Common ageist beliefs include the tendency for younger people to be viewed as inexperienced, naïve, or impulsive, or older people being viewed as out of touch, slow, and insufficiently hip. Professions dominated by people of a certain age are more likely to inflict ageism on employees. For example, an internet company run by twenty-somethings might place unnecessary emphasis on “keeping up with the current trends” and therefore not hire older people based on a stereotype that older people do not understand or follow current trends.
Celebrities and models have frequently expressed concerns about ageism. Actresses over 40 are less likely to get roles as sexually appealing characters, for example, and more likely to be cast as mothers or caretakers. Ageism can affect both men and women, but ageist beliefs about physical appearance are especially likely to affect women.
While some forms of discrimination can be overtly hostile, ageism often has a benevolent element. Many people are not aware that they have ageist beliefs because many ageist stereotypes are normalized in American culture.
Age and the Law
Several U.S. states have enacted laws banning age discrimination in housing and employment, or defining age as a motivating factor for hate crimes. The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act is designed to protect people over the age of 40, and prohibits discrimination in hiring based upon age. Age discrimination can be difficult to detect, however, and potential employers may state that a person does not fit in with corporate culture rather than state explicitly that they are not hiring someone due to their age.
Ways to Combat Ageism
Most people have biases about people of different ages whether they know it or not. Here are some ways you can help reduce ageism in your community:
- Spend time with people of different ages. Getting to know people who are older or younger than you can help you relate to others as complex human beings and break down barriers and misconceptions that may exist between different age groups.
- Identify stereotypes that you have about people of different ages. Once you identify your beliefs and prejudices about people of different ages, you can begin to challenge inaccurate ideas you may hold or change your discriminatory behavior toward certain groups if necessary.
- Speak up if you believe you are a victim of ageism. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your age, there may be people, resources, or laws available to address your situation and help you cope with the effects of discrimination.
- “Ageism.” Webster, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2012. <http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/ageism.html>.
- Anti-Defamation League. Anti-Defamation League State Hate Crime Statutory Provisions. N.p.: n.p., n.d. .pdf.
Last Updated: 08-4-2015
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