Seniors report that ageism is alive and well in our culture

Sixty-three percent of respondents 66 and older said in a recent survey that they had been treated unfairly or differently because of their age

Discrimination based on race or gender is acknowledged in our culture to be plain wrong, yet discrimination against older adults has not yet reached the same level of impropriety. Ageism is alive and well in our country.

The term ageism was coined in 1969 by Robert Butler, then a 42-year-old psychiatrist who headed the District of Columbia advisory committee on aging.

Butler also stated that ageism could be perpetrated against individuals or groups and it could be casual or systemic.

Assuming that a 50-year-old will know less about computers than a 25-year-old is casual ageism. An office policy that forbids hiring anyone over 40 is systemic ageism.

The Revera Report on Ageism: Independence and Choice as We Age was released in 2016 by Revera Inc. and the Sheridan centre for Elder Research. The report compiled the results of a survey completed by 1,501 Canadians, aged 18 to 75 and older.

Of those surveyed, 63 percent of respondents 66 years and older said they had been treated unfairly or differently because of their age, while 35 percent admit they had treated someone differently because of their age.

The survey reported on several other key findings:

  • Half (51 percent) named ageism as the most-tolerated social prejudice when compared to gender or race-based discrimination.
  • Eight in 10 (79 percent) agreed that seniors 75 and older are seen as less important and are more often ignored than younger generations in society.
  • Seven in 10 (71 percent) agreed that Canadian society values younger generations more than older generations
  • One in five (21 percent) said older Canadians are a burden on society.

According to the survey, women are more likely to experience ageism than men; 68 percent versus 57 percent reported being treated unfairly or differently because of their age.

Paradoxically, women are also more optimistic about getting older.

Dr. Amy D’Aprix, a gerontologist, consults to BMO Financial Group as a life transition expert.

She said older men and women are perceived differently.

“I think women are very much more judged on their appearance. I think we see a combination of ageism and sexism.”

But women report much more positive views of aging than men and D’Aprix sees this continuing with the baby boomer generation. Even though this generation has challenged traditional views on working outside the home, gender roles and remaining or becoming single in the retirement years, women’s identities are still tied to relationships while men’s are more closely tied to their work, she said.

“As they age, there can be issues (for women) but they’re not as dramatic and they end up having better social support, while men in terms of retirement still struggle with, ‘who am I?’ and their social support networks aren’t as wide. When you take away their productivity, they don’t have the social supports; so for them aging can be more difficult.”

Do farmers fare better when it comes to ageism?

Ageism in the farming community specifically was not addressed in the Revera survey, but D’Aprix said the attitude that as you age, you should go out to pasture doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in farming communities.

“That keeps older adults more engaged and feeling needed.”

“Also, there’s a whole theory that younger and older are more co-dependent than other professions, which could have a very positive effect on ageism,”

Nevertheless, there is likely a split between younger farmers who want the founding generation to turn over the farm to them and those who see the older adults as vibrant and continue to be engaged. And the financial situation would definitely be a factor, she says.

In its foreword, the Revera report reported that addressing ageism is something we can do at no cost. And there are well-documented positive outcomes, one of which is that those who hold more positive age stereotypes are more likely to recover fully from severe disabilities, and live longer by an average of 7.5 years.

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