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Ageism, Aging, and Age Discrimination

This guide explores tools and resources on the prejudices against people of a certain age given various situations.

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What is Ageism?

Ageism -- A process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people based on their age.  Ageism is usually focused on two targets: young adults and older adults, but ageism can affect people of any age.  Ageism stems from the social construction of ageing through the combination of a range of factors and is manifested in policy, personal values, and the experiences of older/younger people.

It is easy to assume that ageism is a universal phenomenon, but in some cultures, older age may lead to a more valued status or it may not be seen as a source of status at all.  However, in Western societies older age is often constructed as a social problem, resulting in loss of status and devalued identity.  This has consequences in terms of older people's self-perception, how they are perceived by others, their exclusion from some social activities and relationships, and the approaches taken in policy and practice in health and social services.  A number of factors contribute to ageism:

  • Economic - Older people are seen as unproductive.
  • Cultural - Youth is highly valued; in contrast, older age is associated with decline and decrepitude.
  • Interpersonal - Older people may be put at a distance and treated as 'other' in order to protect against fears about aging.

A Dictionary of Social Work anad Social Care by John Harris and Vicky White, Oxford University Press, 2013.

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