Ageism is Not Just About Older People.

April 5, 2021

Ageism is Not Just About Older People.

May 29, 2023

When you hear the word “Ageism,” what does it conjure up? For me, I think of employment discrimination against people with a few more wrinkles. Or I think about women in Hollywood who aren’t cast as romantic leads after age forty (“Sexism” rears its ugly head there as well).

Or I think about ageist jokes that most of us readily tell (even though we’d feel shame if we applied that same joke at the expense of someone of color or who is LGBTQ). Let’s face it; ageism is the last socially acceptable bias.

But I want to turn this idea on its head for a moment. While the word “ageism” was coined in 1969, specific to the premise of older people getting a raw deal, the dictionary definition of ageism is “prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person's age.” How often do we stereotype Millennials or assume that a younger person isn't wise or emotionally intelligent purely due to their life duration? There are all kinds of industries and old-school companies that discount the voice of younger employees.

I’ll never forget when a friend of mine and I were watching young environmental activist Greta Thunberg on TV expressing her well-founded fears about her generation’s future. While my friend believes in the climate crisis, he left the room and muttered “grow up” at the television. When I asked him later why he had a tough time listening to Greta, he said, “I don’t want some 17-year-old girl who isn’t even 5 feet tall lecturing me on the way the world works. She has a lot to learn.”

I came away from that conversation recognizing that ageism happens at any age when the value one has to offer the world is discounted by others purely through the lens of their age. The next time you want to make a joke about someone’s age—whether they’re young, old, or in the dreaded “midlife” — pause for a moment to consider whether you’re part of the ageism problem or part of the ageism solution.

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