AGEISM (also spelled "agism") is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined "ageism" as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.
While the term is sometimes used to discriminate against adolescents and children, including ignoring their ideas because they are too young, or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because of their age, the term is nowadays predominantly used in relation to the treatment of older people.
It can also be passive and covert (e.g., a movie that shows only young people inhabiting a locality and no children, infants or old people are shown in the area) to drive the notion that the place is 'young and romantic'.
Ageism in common parlance and age studies usually refers to negative discriminatory practices against old people, people in their middle years, teenagers and children. There are several forms of age-related bias. Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which is seen as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults. Jeunism is the discrimination against older people in favor of younger ones. This includes political candidacies, jobs, and cultural settings where the supposed greater vitality and/or physical beauty of youth is more appreciated than the supposed greater moral and/or intellectual rigor of adulthood. Adultcentricism is the "exaggerated egocentrism of adults." Adultocracy is the social convention which defines "maturity" and "immaturity," placing adults in a dominant position over young people, both theoretically and practically. Gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. Chronocentrism is primarily the belief that a certain state of humanity is superior to all previous and/or future times.
Based on a conceptual analysis of ageism, a new definition of ageism was introduced by Iversen, Larsen, & Solem in 2009. This definition constitutes the foundation for higher reliability and validity in future research about ageism and its complexity offers a new way of systemizing theories on ageism: "Ageism is defined as negative or positive stereotypes, prejudice and/or discrimination against (or to the advantage of) elderly people on the basis of their chronological age or on the basis of a perception of them as being 'old' or 'elderly'. Ageism can be implicit or explicit and can be expressed on a micro-, meso- or macro-level" (Iversen, Larsen & Solem, 2009).
Ageist stereotyping is a tool of cognition which involves categorizing into groups and attributing characteristics to these groups. Stereotypes are necessary for processing huge volumes of information which would otherwise overload a person, and they are often based on a "grain of truth" (for example, the association between aging and ill health). However, they cause harm when the content of the stereotype is incorrect with respect to most of the group or where a stereotype is so strongly held that it overrides evidence which shows that an individual does not conform to it. For example, age-based stereotypes prime one to draw very different conclusions when one sees an older and a younger adult with, say, back pain or a limp. One might well assume that the younger person's condition is temporary and treatable, following an accident, while the older person's condition is chronic and less susceptible to intervention. On average, this might be true, but plenty of older people have accidents and recover quickly and very young people (such as infants, toddlers and small children) can become permanently disabled in the same situation. This assumption may have no consequence if one makes it in the blink of an eye as one is passing someone in the street, but if it is held by a health professional offering treatment or managers thinking about occupational health, it could inappropriately influence their actions and lead to age-related discrimination. Managers have been accused, by Erdman Palmore, as stereotyping older workers as being resistant to change, not creative, cautious, slow to make judgments, lower in physical capacity, uninterested in technological change, and difficult to train. Another example is when people are rude to children because of their high pitched voice, even if they are kind and courteous. A review of the research literature related to age stereotypes in the workplace was recently published in the Journal of Management.
Contrary to common and more obvious forms of stereotyping, such as racism and sexism, ageism is more resistant to change. For instance, if a child believes in an ageist idea against the elderly, fewer people correct them, and, as a result, individuals grow up believing in ageist ideas, even elders themselves. In other words, ageism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ageist beliefs against the elderly is common place in today's society. For example, an older person who forgets something could be quick to call it a "senior moment," failing to realize the ageism of that statement. People also often say ageist phrases such as "dirty old man" or "second childhood," and elders sometimes miss the ageist undertones.
Effects of ageism
Ageism has significant effects on all groups, the elderly, middle-aged and young people. The stereotypes and infantilization of older and younger people by patronizing language affects older and younger people's self-esteem and behaviors. After repeatedly hearing a stereotype that older or younger people are useless, older and younger people may begin to feel like dependent, non-contributing members of society. They may start to perceive themselves in terms of the looking-glass self—that is, in the same ways that others in society see them. Studies have also specifically shown that when older and younger people hear these stereotypes about their supposed incompetence and uselessness, they perform worse on measures of competence and memory. These stereotypes then become self-fulfilling prophecies. According to Becca Levy's Stereotype Embodiment Theory, older and younger people might also engage in self-stereotypes, taking their culture's age stereotypes—to which they have been exposed over the life course—and directing them inward toward themselves. Then this behavior reinforces the present stereotypes and treatment of the elderly.
Many overcome these stereotypes and live the way they want, but it can be difficult to avoid deeply ingrained prejudice, especially if one has been exposed to ageist views in childhood or adolescence.
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