American popular culture worships youth, and our governmental policies aimed at supporting older adults are far from perfect. But there’s still good news when it comes to society’s attitudes toward aging. We asked Nexus Insights Fellows to name one reason to be encouraged about the fight against ageism in the U.S.
8 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Fight Against Ageism
- “I am encouraged that ageism is now part of the national conversation. That wasn’t the case even five or ten years ago. Now we see universities including ageism in their aging services curriculum, multiple books being published on the topic, and even female celebrities embracing their gray hair and aging process. We have a long way to go in driving real change, but awareness is the first step.” – Jill Vitale-Aussem
- “Aging is one of the most unifying human experiences we have. I find hope in the elevated value of intergenerational engagement: the parent who returns to a new career after raising their children and is embraced by the team; the college student who chooses to live in a senior living apartment instead of the dorms. We have more opportunities now than ever to engage with people of all ages.” – Sarah Thomas
- “As young people are becoming increasingly aware of the probability of longer lives — century-long lives in some cases — more young people are seeing the ways in which our society needs to be redesigned to help them thrive over their life course. In such cases, these young people are acting in their self-interest but to the betterment of society more broadly.” – Ryan Frederick
- “I love what Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been doing to uplift aging. Brava!” – Jacquelyn Kung, PhD
- “Following the pandemic, I am encouraged by the interest in taking on challenges related to older adults that we have ignored for decades.” – David Grabowski, PhD
- “A decade ago at a White House Correspondents dinner, actress Helen Mirren lamented to me that there were no good roles for women over 50 in Hollywood. It’s been heartening to see a proliferation of smart, savvy films and TV shows featuring people over 50. Maybe Hollywood can save D.C. and do a film about a smart, savvy older politician?” – Jay Newton-Small
- “What I find encouraging today is that people of all ages are speaking out about ageism; not just older people. It’s that intergenerational effort that will ultimately extinguish ageism in our culture.” – Sara Zeff Geber, PhD
- “I am encouraged whenever I see people admit and own their age. That act helps others recognize that the person speaking is much more than a number (age).” – Dr. Bill Thomas
We also asked our Fellows to name what they think is the most damaging example of ageism in the U.S.
8 Ways Ageism Damages Our Society
- “Most damaging to the fight against ageism is our language. Our language reflects how we think, so when we can extinguish terms like ‘little old lady,’ ‘geezer,’ ‘over the hill,’ and ‘granny,’ we will have made a worthy start on changing the images people hold in their minds about older adults.” – Sara Zeff Geber, PhD
- “Ageism leads many to believe that caring for older adults is not everyone’s responsibility. Caregiving will always be a family issue, but it is also a policy issue. We should prioritize policies that improve housing, long-term care, and health care for older adults.” – David Grabowski, PhD
- “The most damaging example is the assumption that as we age, we have nothing left to contribute to our communities and society. The term ‘silver tsunami,’ for example, frames our growing cohort of older adults as a disaster, assuming that older people are nothing more than a drain on society. This messaging seeps into the minds of policy makers, aging services providers, and each of us as aging human beings.” – Jill Vitale-Aussem
- “Equating aging with decline creates a perverse, self-fulfilling prophecy that cuts older people off from their full developmental potential.” – Dr. Bill Thomas
- “I believe that the weaponization of age — particularly accusations of cognitive impairment as political cudgels — was incredibly damaging and stigmatizing for anyone grappling with that diagnosis.” – Jay Newton-Small
- “Ageism has limited our ability to design places — from metropolitan areas to neighborhood blocks to housing — that are welcoming and inclusive to people of all ages and abilities. The result is that there are fewer intergenerational relationships and older people may need to move away from their ‘home.’” – Ryan Frederick
- “Aging is not a disease. All too often we succumb to society’s ageist pressures to attempt to halt or reverse the aging process. The anti-aging movement that applies unnatural filters to every photo we take and pushes a definition of beauty that revolts against nature is dangerous. This unhealthy view of aging begins to damage society in our youth and we carry the burden of these unhealthy pressures for decades.” – Sarah Thomas
- “When I hear older adults described as ‘cute,’ I cringe.” – Jaquelyn Kung, PhD
- If You Hated 2020, You’re Going to Despise Old Age: A Nexus Op-Ed
- The Cost of Ageism in the United States
- A New Wrinkle on Aging – Jill Vitale-Aussem
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