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How to Recognize Ageism and Deal with It

Updated on September 4, 2013


No matter what generation you're from, no one is safe from age discrimination.
No matter what generation you're from, no one is safe from age discrimination. | Source

Working with much younger colleagues in this ageist society isn’t exactly an enviable position. Put in a box by people’s presumptions and false impressions, branded for life with a moniker that is hardly flattering or befitting and practically fated to be the sitting duck to all the nasty age-related jokes, I am no more ecstatic about socializing at work than the silently suffering lamb sentenced to the slaughter table.

I am no saint. No matter how much of a good sport I’ve been or tried to be during that entire guffaw and sniggering, I am sometimes tempted to give in to that burgeoning urge of slapping the smugness out of my twenty-something-year-old co-workers with a lecture on discrimination. I thought I had left all that behind me, along with the other ‘isms of bullying in high school—sexism, racism, and what have you. But, even here in the corporate setup of work, discrimination can still be an issue.

Ageism is discrimination. People are categorized, singled out, prejudged, or disliked based on their age group. describes the principle of ageism as “a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination.” Ageism comes in different forms--adulticism, jeunism, adultcentrism, gerontocracy, and chronocentrism. This simply means that whether you are a veteran actress battling it out with much younger and more attractive hopefuls for a coveted role; a neophyte lawyer trying to make his mark in a court of legal experts; or an octogenarian trying to prove his independence in this fast-paced world, no one is exempted from this age-based bias.

Ageism is discrimination and promotes negativity.
Ageism is discrimination and promotes negativity. | Source

Recognizing Ageist Comments

Ageism can be as blatant as inequity in the workplace or as subtle as an observation made to pass for a compliment on how young you look in your new haircut. Though many ageist remarks aren’t meant to insult, they are usually very telling of a person’s attitude towards a certain age bracket or generation. Below are some classic ageist remarks I have come across on a day to day:

“Oh, you don’t look frumpy at all. In fact, you can pass for a cougar.”

As if being likened to the stereotypical older woman seeking relationships with much younger men would thrill any woman to the bones. This was a comment made by a well-meaning colleague in an attempt to convince me that I still looked attractive despite my struggle to regain my pre-baby form in my 30s.

“You’re too young to understand.”

This is the last thing you would want to hear when you are young and trying to understand the world. To constrict maturity to a certain age bracket would be wrong to do so as our personal, spiritual and mental growth come with life experience rather than age.

“I feel sorry for that old man. He should be resting and enjoying his retirement.”

Stereotyping a person according to his chronological age is more crippling than any actual health condition. When we are blinded by our own presumptions and expectations, we have unknowingly prevented the person from being anything more in our regard.

Speak up against Ageism
Speak up against Ageism | Source

Coping With Ageism

Ageism in any form promotes self-doubt, insecurity, depression, and all sorts of negative emotions. When you find yourself in the receiving end of this age-based prejudice, you’ll discover that it is no laughing matter. Here are some ways you can deal with ageism in whatever situation.

  1. Be calm. When people start poking fun at your age whether blatant or indirect, blowing up or walking out in a huff will further fan the flame of discrimination and incite more back talks.
  2. Speak out and nip it at the bud. My biggest mistake was keeping quiet and being tolerant about the labeling which eventually resulted in more stereotyping. Tell the person that you do not appreciate being tagged, branded, or classified. Explain stereotyping.
  3. Prove yourself. In some work environment, youth is regarded as a disadvantage since it usually spells out inexperience for some people. It is likewise the same with older people who are typecast as frail slow learners that need to be guided by the hand. Continuous learning lead to improvement of skills which often result in a boost in work performance.
  4. Detach yourself from negativity. Surround yourself with positive like-minded people. They don’t have to be the same age to be on the same page with you. Bridging the generation gap with people younger or older will broaden your horizon.
  5. Reevaluate your values. Do you harbor prejudice against people from a specific age group? Are you afraid of ageing? Do you resort to self-depreciation by saying, “I must be getting senile?” Are you prone to making ageist remarks about other people? Practice what you preach!


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    • profile image

      JF 19 months ago

      I would add that much of the time ageism is more subtle than the examples here - exclusion from conversation and after work team bonding activities from a knot of younger colleagues, an appraising look at aging skin, etc.

    • profile image

      Rozalyn Winters 3 years ago

      Excellent hub on ageism, Mira, and some good advice on handling.

      Dr. Siegel: As a recently graduated 40-something, non-traditional student I'm not surprised to hear your story. At least I was allowed to participate, but it was NOT a pleasant experience. Interestingly, I noticed that in my science major I was treated far worse than in my business major.

      The only positive here is that everyone gets old--so you know that those who are ageist to you will someday get their comeuppance.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Mira. most people do not recognize this bias but it definitely exists. Many companies feel that older people have no real value. Many people see the elderly and cannot relate to them. Their visibility also feeds on their fear of getting old.

    • profile image

      Dr. Edward Siegel 4 years ago

      In supposedly liberal Seattle in the supposedly liberal state of Washington at the supposedly liberal University of Washington the campus police as policy openly discriminate against elderly even former professors.

      Former(at 70) but still active scientists like myself(a physicist), having moved here for my wife's health issues (she got no decent treatment whatsoever from the much vaunted but greatly disappointing University of Washington medical center)have been forbidden from attending any seminars and colloquia, (or even contacting any faculty by any means whatsoever) in any departments whatsoever under penalty of arrest. (And I was starting to do joint research with several professors in several departments and have many books and much property on UW campus). This is in direct violation of all federal funding agency federal laws. What one sees is the sociological-dysfunctionality of ageism in their FEAR, FEAR of new visitors with new ideas that come from older visitors since much of their public posture(this "STEM" mantra) is media-hype P.R. show-biz to ensnare the young ONLY. And this ageism reinforced by their police is most especially true of departments like psychology, as well as philosophy and earth sciences, with some ageism also in physics and mathematics(the most friendly). Why I have been told by professors half my age that "it is O.K. TO ATTEND SEMINARS/COLLOQUIA, BUT YOU CAN'T ASK ANY QUESTIONS NOR MAKE ANY COMMENTS", even when they are about my work or fields that I was(and still am) an expert in, or in some cases the father of! To attend anything on UW campus, I must actually phone the UW police chief and get his permission, and I simply refuse to be treated in such a fascist ageism manner, reinforced by all department chairs, all deans, the provost(a PSYCHOLOGIST who many of you no doubt know!!!; just google “Provost University of Washington”), the president, the regents, and seemingly the supposedly liberal governor.

      University of Washington is a total disappointment with rampant police enforced ageism as official policy!!!

    • Mira Dalangin profile image

      Almira Presto Dalangin 5 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

      To be the target of any kind of prejudice is a terrible thing. People will always deny their meanness, but they wouldn't really know what it's like until they find themselves in the receiving end. Sometimes discrimination just boils down to pure and simple ignorance. It's just annoying to have to keep explaining yourself to people every time. Well, I say, break away from stereotypes and be yourself.

    • taanirudh profile image

      taani 5 years ago

      biologically,end of reproductive phase is the indication of start of ageing and then senescence.The difference between the both is that ageing can be reversed but senescence can not be.

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      I'll be sharing this Hub because this is a subject that needs as much exposure as it can get. This is going to come across like I have "a big attitude" problem, or a "chip on my shoulder" (or something), but I've been like the poster child for ageism my whole life.

      First there was, of course, not being taken seriously as a child (as is the case for so many, maybe most/all, children in this world). That lasted longer for me than some because I was unusually young looking (and it didn't help that I was very small in stature). So fine, I lived with that until the agism-inclined seemed to figure out that I wasn't a teenager; but, of course, while some of the agists stopped when I was in my forties, there was still a whole lot of people older than I who STILL thought I didn't know what I was talking about (or didn't know a whole lot of the most basic things about life, for that matter)!

      OK, so I then turned FIFTY!!! "Now, fifty is an age when all those sixty- and over people should figure out that I'm CERTAINLY a grown up. Some may have. Not all. On top of that, once a person passes fifty (and people know about it), there's the other version of agisim to deal with - thinking people are "old" and "not in touch" (etc. etc.)

      So, at this point (let's just say I'm fifty-eleven - I'm still adjusting), I've got all those people of the younger-than-I group who have the misguided ideas about what (eh hem) "over fifty" is, and I STILL have people older than I treating me like I'm a young kid.

      At this point, I pretty much realize that there will never be any stopping it for me, because as those people older than I dwindle in number, there'll be yet more of those younger than and thinking I'm no longer a capable adult (if any-bloody-one has ever figured that out anyway!).

      AND, on a very serious (even frightening) note: I was around forty when I left my marriage, and one would have thought I was a run-away teenager. I was picked up by the local mental-health authorities, and although I was sensible enough to know how to stay calm and cooperative, I was faced with a whole little circle of people who thought I was being unreasonable because I wouldn't just happily agree that I should let "everyone and his brother" put in their two cents on what I did and didn't do. Honesty - even the judge and other authorities were making jokes about, "How old are you again????"

      Sorry about the long comment on your Hub, but as you can see this is a REAL sore spot of mine. I live with people telling me things like what ordinary foods and beverages are (as if I've never had them). And, here's the one that I found horrifying: Three years ago I did a serious leg injury. It's just about good as new now, and it had nothing to do with my age. Not long ago, though, someone actually suggested that I might want to think about "assisted living" ("because of the leg"). The leg is almost good as new!! I do fitness videos all the time (of course the person who mentioned assisted living hasn't witnessed it). Still, if I were thirty and had the same extreme injury nobody would bring up "assisted living"!!!!


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