Ageism. A social construct of old age that portrays ageing and older people in a negative way. Ageism is often overlooked when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Society has portrayed older civilians as harmful to society as a whole. This type of behavior has carried over to the workplace although older employees are still healthy, educated, and as equally productive as their younger counterparts.


Let’s take a look at how this stereotype impacts society and what actionable steps can be taken to combat this behavior.


The History of Ageism and It’s Commonplace


The term ageism was coined by Robert N. Butler in 1969 and was described as patterning racism and sexism. Butler believed that ageism is when the middle-aged group discriminates against the young and the old, because they are seen as dependent. Erdman Palmore, another researcher, felt that older adults should be seen as minorities. He argued that the terms such as “old” or “elderly” have negative connotations and negatively shape our reality when it comes to older age.


These negative connotations have a large effect on the health of older adults. Unfortunately, this discriminatory behavior is a commonplace. According to Alana Officer, a senior health adviser of Department of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organization in Geneva, “Ageism is everywhere: health care provision, employment, education, the media. Attitudes toward older persons are predominantly negative, with older age all too commonly seen a period of inevitable decline and frailty.” Negative ageist is not confined to one society or group of people, which makes the consequences of this injustice much harder to fix. According to this AARP report, 1 in every 5 workers in the United States is over the age of 55. Nearly 65% of workers say that they have experienced age-based discrimination at work and 58% of those surveyed believe that ageism became apparent starting at age 50.  


How to Combat Ageism


As the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This type of stereotype will only open doors for continued discrimination if left unchecked. For example, gendered ageism, youthful ageism, and more have developed and will greatly compromise diverse workplaces and policies to protect those of all backgrounds.


Awareness of this will help combat this growing issue. Striving to maintain a diverse workforce must be a priority amongst employees and hiring managers. This means creating an age-friendly work environment and steering clear of any stereotypes. Everyone deserves an equal chance and these outdated concepts of older adults being a burden in the workplace are harmful to us all.