In many cultures, the attainment of advanced age brings respect from the accumulation of wisdom and experience. Yet, unfortunately, age discrimination is a significant issue currently confronting seniors in the United States.

There may be career opportunities in certain fields, however they are very few and far between.

The best way to eradicate age discrimination is first to recognize the signs of it. The legal and sociological term for this is Ageism, defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s age.” The term “ageism” was first coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler, an American physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist, and author. Butler was also the first director of the National Institute on Aging.  He defined “ageism” as the combination of three connected elements: behaviors aimed towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices enacted specifically against older people; and institutional practices and policies designed to help but can perpetuate stereotypes.

How do you determine age discrimination?

5 Signs of Age Discrimination

  1. Older workers are offered buyouts or are fired while younger people are being hired
  2. Reassigned to unpleasant duties
  3. Start hearing comments or “jokes” about age
  4. Raises stop
  5. Performance reviews tank, despite good work


Age Discrimination has branched out from this one definition and been identified in several different expressions of behavior.


  • Implicit Ageism refers to thoughts, feelings, and judgments that operate without conscious awareness and automatically produce in everyday life. This age discrimination is often perpetrated as the constant repetition of stereotypes, including forgetfulness, lack of physical stamina, hearing loss, vision loss, and many other factors.


  • Employment age discrimination involves the idea of replacing the old with the young for many reasons. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was first established in 1965. One of their first complainants was from female flight attendants specifically complaining of age discrimination.


  • Government ageism is present in how the current public government allocates expenditures and implements various federal, state, and local programs. In addition, the vast and growing size of unfunded health and retirement benefits will require today’s younger generation to bear a heavy tax burden when they grow up and enter the working world.


  • Ageist prejudice leads to stereotyping. It can involve the expression of derogatory attitudes, which may lead to discriminatory behavior. For example, when younger persons engage older persons in conversations, the elders may fail to understand various contemporary pop culture knowledge or references. This Ageism can is perceived as being square, behind the times, or ancient. Yet, the point of reference that the older person has maybe highly hip and relevant for the era they experienced.


  • Digital Ageism refers to the prejudices older adults face in accessing and using the digital world. Generational segregation portrays youth as digitally adept and open to new technology while portraying seniors as digital dunces and fraidy-cats. However, there is no empirical evidence for a digital divide between younger and older people using digital media. Instead, it is often either access to technology or interest in the available technology.


  • Visual Ageism was first coined in 2018 by Loredana Ivan and Eugène Loos in International Perspectives on Aging. It is described as “the social practice of visually underrepresenting older people or misrepresenting them in a prejudiced way.” Loos and Ivan also reported that “We, as a society, are facing a shift from visual ageism characterized by underrepresentation and the negative representation of older people to a model of older age characterized by images of stereotypically third age older adults (enjoying life and living their “golden years”), while older adults in their fourth age (inactive and unable to live independently) (still) remain invisible.”


  • Communications/Entertainment Industry – Age discrimination in Hollywood, specifically in women, is quite profound. This Ageism ranges from how studios prefer younger actresses to play the opposite of older leading men to the lack of leading and supporting roles. In addition, the way youth culture is is the undercurrent for so many movies and television affect how older women are subsequently thought of and then presented in the media. Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis has established The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to counter this bias. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is the only research-based advocacy organization examining the portrayal of varying identities, including age, gender, race, LGBTQ+, disability, and body size. Davis and her organization are working for greater inclusion which reflects all these categories.


  • Healthcare – There is considerable evidence of discrimination against the elderly in health care. This Ageism is particularly true for physician-patient interaction, such as screening procedures, information exchanges, and treatment decisions. In many patient-physician interactions, physicians and other health care providers may hold attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors associated with Ageism when working with older patients. For example, research has found that many physicians have a higher rate of apathy towards any care or concern involving the medical issues of older people. Then, their bedside manner towards these older patients during evaluation and treatment, the doctors sometimes disgust them and describe them negatively, such as “depressing” or “crazy.” For screening procedures, older adults are less likely than younger people to be screened for cancers and, due to the lack of this preventive measure, they are less likely to be diagnosed at the early stages of their conditions.


mature workforce

Is there an answer to eliminate age discrimination? In the book Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People, award-winning writer, and cultural critic Margaret Morganroth Gullette confront the culprits: the ways people aging past midlife are portrayed in the media, by adult offspring; the esthetics and politics of representation in photography, film, and theater; and the incitement to commit suicide for those with early signs of “dementia.” The sudden onset of age-related shaming can occur anywhere—the shove in the street, the cold shoulder at the party, the deaf ear at the meeting, the shut-out by the personnel office, or the obtuseness of a government.

Gullette shows personal and private suffering as solvable public grievances and demonstrates that overcoming Ageism is the next imperative social movement needing attention. “Ageism tears down the structures that all humans need to age well; to end it, a symbol of resilience offers us all brisk blue-sky energy,” she says, “Ageism tears down the structures that all humans need to age well; to end it, a symbol of resilience offers us all brisk blue-sky energy.”