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By Wendy Mednick


Fighting Ageism In America

Ageism, a stereotyping prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age.

In the 1960’s Robert Butler an American physician and author coined the phrase Ageism. He defined it as “ A process of systemic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this with skin color and gender”. Older people are categorized as senile, rigid in thoughtand manner, old fashioned in morality and skills. Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different from themselves, thus they subtly cease to identify with elders as human beings.

The number of Americans 60 and older whether battling stereotypes or trying to obtain equal standings in the workplace, may all too often find themselves the victims of ageism. Ageism is a social attitude, it is a way of looking at older people that stereotypes them. The population of Americans who are over the age of 60 is growing at a rapid pace, yet our society is still not embracing seniors. Almost 35 million Americans are over the age of 65 according to the U.S. Census, that number tracking to double by the year 2030 to 20% of the overall population. The mistreatment of seniors in America is occurring at a time when people who are over the age of 65 comprise the fastest growing portion of the population in the nation.

A 2001 survey by Duke University’s Erdman Palmore PHD, spoke with 84 people 60 and over. Nearly 80% of respondents reported experiencing ageism, such as other people assuming they had memory or physical impairments due to their age. Thirty one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. The impact of age discrimination towards older adults mental health is profoundly negative. Ageism also flows into mental health issues. Negative stereotypes are not only hurtful to the aging population, but may even shorten their lives. A study showed when interviewing over 600 people 50 years and older, those with more positive self perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self perceptions of aging.

Seniors are often portrayed as dependent and helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving. The reality is that the majority of seniors are self-sufficient middle class consumers with more assets than most young people, as well as more talent and time to offer society. The impact of ageism on the hiring process and older individuals is often overlooked compared to the other forms of disicrimination. Ageism is illegal at every stage of employment and the hiring process. When businesses discriminate based on age they are missing out on a highly experienced talent pool, as well as a number of other benefits and skills older workers can bring. Ageism is when an applicant, or employee is overlooked or treated unfairly based on their age. Some are often ignored because they are perceived to be close to retirement, or employees feel older employees may hand off their responsibilities to a younger worker.

My own personal experience of ageism and the hiring process began a few years back. I felt ageism was driven by myths and inaccurate stereotypes. I experienced rejection after rejection, with over 25 years of a diverse work background as well as two higher education degrees. I began to immerse myself in the hiring process knowing that was probably the only way I could secure employment. At times it was apparent that resumes were not even read and just glanced over within a few seconds. Responses from employers asking if I was up to date with “today's” tech skills, or asking how much experience I had. I had become an empty nester with years and years of industry experience in my field of work. I brought an abundance of free time to the table as well as a deeper level of commitment. I do believe what employers were overlooking is that experienced employees, thus older in years, is an important factor for building diverse teams. It boosts creativity, and employee engagement. Hiring older workers brings a myriad of advantages to organizations. They bring different perspectives and ideas, an extensive network of clients and contacts, mentor skills and expertise that are difficult to teach. Senior workers can be more loyal to their employers and stay at companies longer. It is important to remember that no matter how many resumes/applications sent out, you are defined by more than the words on those pieces of paper.

Ageism in the workplace occurs everyday across America, unrecognized for what truly is discrimination. Stay confident in what you can do and contribute. Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age. It is a widespread phenomenon and constitutes a significant threat to the aging population well being. Identifying the factors contributing to ageism is critical to inform policies that minimize its societal impact. We must maintain adequate levels of well being and health in older people and it is important due to the global population that is aging. Ageism includes three distinct dimensions; stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. You age is just a number and there are strategies to overcome ageism and get others to see past it. There is no reason as we get older that we have to experience this discrimination.

Everyday health suggests to stay active mentally and physically, live in the present and look to the future. Do not be afraid to speak up, don't let yourself be pushed because you are older and make attempts to participate. Stay positive, attitude has much to do with how people overcome ageism. Embrace the experience and wisdom that come with age and put them to good use. Be as independent as you can be, if you assume you can't do certain things due to your age, then you won’t. You only lose the ability when you allow yourself too. Surround yourself with younger people, there is more energy that often comes from the younger generation. Join organizations that interest you,volunteer, this all keeps you connected to the community, and an alternative way to meet a more diverse population.

Ageism is everywhere, and an everyday challenge, yet it is the most socially normalized of any prejudice and is not widely countered like racism or sexism. Overlooked for employment, restricted from social services and stereotyped in the media. These attitudes lead to marginalization of older people within our communities and have negative impacts on their health and well-being. To deal with the effects of ageism, we need to change attitudes and challenge the negative stereotypes. Within health and social care, we need a more informed workforce that better recognizes the different ways mental health problems present themselves in the older population.

Have you been impacted by ageism, experienced prejudice and been stereotyped? I would love to hear your story! We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for!

Stay Well...Stay Happy

Wendy Mednick was born and raised in Buffalo,N.Y. and has a BS/MA from SUNY Buffalo/SUC Buffalo . Owner WFM Development with 30 years plus experience in Sales, Business Development and Project Management. She can be reached at: WFM662@Gmail.Com