Age discrimination is prejudicial behaviour against older people based on stereotypes about their age. These stereotypes commonly assume seniors to be asexual, intellectually rigid, relatively unproductive, ineffective and reclusive. The impact of ageism creeps up on people as they get older, sometimes making it difficult for them to confront.
Age discrimination inflicts psychological and emotional abuse on the elderly and results in low self-esteem and depression. The harshest impact occurs when the elderly themselves adopt and conform to negative stereotypes.
The three main psychological effects of age discrimination are acceptance, denial and avoidance, according to Dr. Erdman B. Palmore in his book "Ageism." Acceptance means that victims submit to stereotypes and sometimes even go so far as to endorse them. This may cause the elderly to grow apathetic and eventually withdraw from society.
Denial occurs when victims, identifying with the dominant group, refuse to consider themselves elderly, sometimes until they reach their 80s. They may attempt to hide their age through choice of fashion, hair colouring and cosmetic surgery.
Of the three psychological effects, avoidance is the most destructive. Victims who try to avoid the stereotype may isolate themselves or resort to drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. They sometimes suffer mental illnesses such as depression, which can lead to suicide.
While it is difficult to quantify, age discrimination clearly has an economic impact in terms of lost productivity. Victims may be pressed to retire at the height of their careers, when they know their jobs well and still have wisdom and experience to contribute. They are replaced by a younger, less experienced workforce whose output is lower in volume and quality.
In addition, the significant reduction in income that retirees face reduces their consumption, along with the purchasing power of society as a whole, and the nation's tax base.
According to Robert Neil Butler in his book "Being Old In America," age discrimination takes a toll on seniors' dignity and confidence.
It also discourages them from enjoying romance and love. Younger people often squirm at the topic of senior romance, and the elderly internalise this subtle, negative attitude. As a result, they may not pursue relationships that could offer them happiness and emotional stability.
- Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
- Ageism: Negative and Positive; Erdman Ballagh Palmore; 1999
- Ageism; Linda Wolf, PhD ; 1998
- Social Work Today
- Being Old in America; Robert Neil Butler, PhD; 1975
- Baby Boomer Care
- Encyclopedia of Ageism; Erdman Ballagh Palmore, Laurance Branch, Diana Harris; 2005