By Sheri R. Levy, PhD, MaryBeth Apriceno, Ashley Lytle, PhD , and Jamie L. Macdonald
The holiday season has a way of encouraging acts of kindness toward family, friends, and even strangers. As the holiday spirit inspires us to treat others with kindness and respect, let us not overlook older adults who tend not to receive everyday acts of kindness, gratitude, and respect.
Ageism (negative attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviors toward older adults) is a significant social problem that impacts their health and well-being.
As the World Health Organization points out:
“Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice, and is not widely challenged – like racism or sexism.”
Older adults face disrespectful, avoidant, and patronizing behavior as well as discrimination and even abuse in the workforce, health care, and housing. Challenging ageist stereotypes and treating older adults with respect and kindness can help confront the detrimental effects of ageism.
Some figures that should give us pause:
- Nearly all depictions of older adults in publicly available Facebook groups (including more than 25,489 members) involved the use of negative ageist stereotypes5.
- There were 20,857 age discrimination claims in employment in 2016 alone, accounting for 22.8% of all discrimination claims in employment2.
- Ageism was the most frequently reported type of discrimination by a nationally representative sample of 6,000 American adults ages 50 and over when asked whether they experienced discrimination by doctors or hospitals11.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 6 older adults have experienced some form of elder abuse in the past year. This abuse includes neglect as well as physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse.
What you can do to reduce ageism:
1. Get the facts on aging:
3. Steer clear of birthday cards that poke fun of older adults, which can lead to the internalization of negative age stereotypes, and further perpetuate myths about aging.
Celebrate older adults throughout the year:
- Older Americans Month is May of each year.
- August 21st every year is National Senior Citizens Day in the United States.
- The second Sunday in September every year is National Grandparents Day in the United States.
- October 1 every year is the United Nation’s International Day of Older Persons.
If you would like to learn more about this topic, the following resources might be of interest to you:
1Abrams, D., Swift, H.J., and Drury, L. (2016). Old and unemployable? How age-based stereotypes affect willingness to hire job candidates. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 105-121. doi 10.1111/josi.12158
2Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (January, 2017). EEOC Releases Fiscal Year 2016 Enforcement and Litigation Data. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/1-18-17a.cfm
3Erber, J.T., & Szuchman, L.T. (2015). Great myths of aging. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA
4Levy, B. R. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6): 332-336.
5Levy, B.R., Chung, P.H., Bedford, T., & Navrazhina, K. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 172–176. doi:10.1093/geront/gns194
6Levy, S.R. (2016). Toward reducing ageism: PEACE (Positive Education about Aging and Contact Experiences) Model. The Gerontologist. 10 AUG 2016, doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw116
7Levy, S.R., & Macdonald, J.L. (2016). Progress on Understanding Ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 5-25. doi: 10.1111/josi.12153
8Lytle, A., & Levy, S.R. (2017). Reducing Ageism: Education about Aging and Extended Contact with Older Adults. The Gerontologist. Article first published online: 19 NOV 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnx177
9Palmore, E. B., Branch, L., & Harris, D. K. (Eds. 2005). Encyclopedia of ageism. Binghamton, NY, US: Haworth Pastoral Press.
10Pillemer, K,, Burnes, D, Riffin, C., Lachs, M.S., (2016). Elder Abuse: Global Situation, Risk Factors, and Prevention Strategies, The Gerontologist, 56, 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnw004
11Rogers, S. E., Thrasher, A. D., Miao, Y., Boscardin, W. J., & Smith, A. K. (2015). Discrimination in healthcare settings is associated with disability in older adults: Health and retirement study, 2008–2012. Journal Of General Internal Medicine, 30(10), 1413-1420. doi:10.1007/s11606-015-3233-6
12United Nations (2014). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/ageing/
13World Health Organization (September, 2015). Ageing and Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs404/en/
14World Health Organization (June, 2017). Elder abuse: Fact sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs357/en/
Sheri R. Levy is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, USA. She earned her PhD at Columbia University in New York City, USA. Levy studies factors that cause and maintain prejudice, stigmatization, and negative intergroup relations and that can be harnessed to reduce bias, marginalization, and discrimination. Her research focuses on bias based on age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and social class. With Jamie L. Macdonald and Todd D. Nelson, Levy co-Edited a special issue of Journal of Social Issues on “Ageism: Health and Employment Contexts” (Levy, Macdonald, & Nelson, 2016). Levy was Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Social Issues from 2010-2013 and is a Fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Division 9 of American Psychological Association).
MaryBeth Apriceno is a graduate student at Stony Brook University. She received her BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research investigates factors that affect ageist attitudes, aging anxiety, and self-stereotyping.
Jamie L. Macdonald is a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University working with Sheri R. Levy. Jamie received her BA and MA in Psychology from Stony Brook University, New York, USA. Her research investigates prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination with a focus on ageism in different contexts, like the workplace. She was a Co-Editor, with Sheri R. Levy and Todd D. Nelson, on a special issue of Journal of Social Issues on “Ageism: Health and Employment Contexts” (Levy, Macdonald, & Nelson, 2016).
Ashley Lytle is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. Lytle earned her PhD at Stony Brook University, New York, USA. Her research explores how prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping impact academic, social, and health outcomes among marginalized groups. Much of Lytle’s research has focused on better understanding prejudice toward older adults, sexual minorities, and women, with the ultimate goal of creating simple, yet effective, interventions to reduce prejudice.
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