Ageism is a pervasive problem in our society, and one with serious consequences.
That was the message that Human Development Professor Karl Pillemer shared in a panel discussion on ageism by The Atlantic magazine.
Pillemer was joined by two other experts – Michelle Holder, an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Steven Petrow, author of Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: Promises to Myself, My Friends and Family – to discuss Why Does Ageism Happen in the Workplace and How Do We Prevent It?
“The notion of ageism may seem to be a trivial problem, one that shows up in late-night talk show jokes about older politicians or tacky birthday cards, but it has very serious health consequences,” Pillemer said.
He cited research that demonstrates that older people who have more negative attitudes about aging have poorer mental and physical health and higher mortality rates.
“It’s also true that ageism affects our society in general by keeping people from more meaningful roles,” he said. “And it’s very damaging to young people. As we enter an aging world, growing up with all of those negative stereotypes and false beliefs… it’s really creating a negative environment for all of us.”
One of the core problems, Pillemer said, is that our society is very much segregated by age.
“Most young people don’t have contact with older people outside of intermittent events within their own families,” he said. “In fact, people are more likely to have a close personal friend of another race rather than a close personal friend who is 10 years older or 10 years younger.”
This encourages younger people to frame older people in terms of the stereotypes they see, instead of appreciating them as unique individuals.