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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Ageism and the Plight of Older Adults

The terms ageism and age discrimination are common knowledge. They have been such an underlying part of our culture, that the negative reactions to aging are commonplace. But the demographic tables have turned and now older adults 65 and over, reached 55.8 million or 16.8% of the population of the U.S. in 2020. (2020 Census). This group cannot be ignored or rendered invisible. Age cannot be a generalizing factor in determining the value of this group.

Ageism involves the stereotyping or discriminating against people based on their age and can occur in both the workplace and personal life. The societal message is that aging must be hidden. It is an unsatisfying process and older adults are incapable of taking care of themselves. Commercials focus on retirement, pharmaceuticals, health conditions, long-term care, and funeral plans. Older adults are viewed as frail and clueless.

Facing discrimination because of your age can affect your mental and physical health, self-esteem, and finances.

Physical effects

Ageism is linked to earlier death rates. Older adults who engage in self-directed ageism and perceived themselves as useless had shorter life spans. It can also slow down recovery from physical ailments. Ageism within the medical field itself leads to worse outcomes for older adults.

Mental health effects

Ageist comments from family members can make you feel worthless, lacking social support. Ageism can trigger or worsen depression. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 6 million cases of depression around the world may be the result of ageism.

After internalizing negative stereotypes, you might experience a drop in cognitive abilities, such as memory, due to fear of confirming those stereotypes. This phenomenon is known as stereotypic threat, and even brief exposure to negative messaging can affect your self-esteem and performance.

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Financial consequences

Even though the boomers hold a vast amount of wealth in this country, there are many within that group struggling to get by. It is documented that more than two-fifths of baby boomers are nearing retirement with no retirement savings. This might seem impossible to imagine but many Americans work for smaller companies that don’t offer retirement savings, are self-employed, or living paycheck-to-paycheck. Recessions, the pandemic, and inflation have destroyed savings for average Americans.

It seems ludicrous that retirement experts refer to working longer – as the good news of this situation. This is a reasonable solution if you already work for a company that allows you to delay retirement. But if you are over 60 and have already retired, the likelihood of finding a job based on your knowledge and experience is difficult at best.

According to an AARP Research survey, discrimination has had an impact on older adults who are either looking for work or trying to succeed in their current jobs. Here are some of the key takeaways from the survey.

1. One in 6 adults said they weren’t hired for a job because of their age.

a. Responses from the survey suggest that employers are gathering age-related information during the hiring process.

b. Among the recent job seekers, 53 percent said an employer asked them to give their birth date during the application or interview process, and 47 percent were asked their graduation rate.

2. The age demographics of different types of job seekers, age discrimination continues to be one of the main drivers of higher levels of long-term unemployment after age 50.

3. Age bias on the job continues to be common.

a. 32 percent of older adults who currently are working or looking for work said that during the past two years they have heard negative comments about an older worker’s age.

b. 17 percent said they personally have experienced negative remarks about their age

c. 1 in 10 (13 percent) have been passed up for a promotion due to their age.

How ageism harms

The negative view of late life is harmful and dangerous. “The narrative that age is decline, age is burden, hurts everyone: individuals, families, communities, and society,” said Nancy Morrow, PhD, a professor of social policy and expert in gerontology at Washington University in St. Louis.

· Ageism in the workplace affects hiring and promotion decisions.

· In medical settings, stereotypes associated with aging may influence treatment decisions.

· In the mental health field, most psychotherapists don’t receive adequate education in geropsychology

o Age bias and stereotypes can influence their attitudes and practices

· Internalized messages about aging also influence a person’s health and well-being

· Societal messages about aging impact a person’s health and well-being

o “People who take in more negative age beliefs tend to show worse physical, cognitive, and mental health. But the good news is that those who are exposed to or develop more positive age beliefs tend to show benefits in physical, cognitive, and mental health.” Becca Levy PhD professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and of psychology at Yale University.

Ageism and age discrimination permeate our culture. It is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Longevity is real and the sheer numbers of older adults over 50 continues to grow. Concentrated efforts to turn the beliefs about agism around are critical for successful aging for all generations.


De Vise, D. (May 5, 2023). Nearly half of baby boomers have no retirement savings. Retrieved from

Reid, S. Ageism and age discrimination. Retrieved from

Terrell, K. (July 26, 2022). Age discrimination kept workers from getting hired during the pandemic, AARP finds. Retrieved from

Weir, K. (March 1, 2023). Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Psychologists are working to change that. Retrieved from

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