Ageism. A closing doors stereotype
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ageism, age discrimination, is the third leading cause of inequality in the world, after racism and masculinity. WHO defines it as “stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination based on age”
People who have lost their jobs over 50, people who have to live in nursing homes, or people who suffer age discrimination when taking out health insurance, applying for loans or volunteering, know it really well. However, ageism is such an unknown term that it is not even included in the Dictionary of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (Institute of Catalan Studies) or in the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy).
Montse Celdrán Castro, a psychogerontologist at the University of Barcelona, describes ageism based on three elements: stereotypes ⎼, for example, saying that older people do not master technologies ⎼, feelings ⎼ such as the fear of getting old ⎼, and discriminatory behaviours ⎼ like treating people differently due to their apparent age.
A stereotyped society
Ageism affects women more than men, mainly because women live longer. In addition, although the trend has changed, for generations the female figure was associated with household chores, be it within her own house or others’, but without contributions, which meant that their access to other better-paid jobs was impeded, just as their options to any pension. Besides having direct consequences in terms of economic resources, the fact that this occurred on a general basis also had social consequences.
However, ageism is not limited to older people. Young people also suffer prejudice and labour exploitation, among other possible discriminations. Being “too young” can mean that your opinions are not taken into account, that salaries are lower, or that even the figure of the scholar is abused, and job insecurity is perpetuated. So we could say that ageism can take place either by excess (for being too old) or by default (too young).
Both, the image of an elderly person with a cap and cane sitting on a bench, chatting and feeding pigeons, and the image of young people drinking on the same bench, are mere stereotypes that do not correspond to reality, which is much more complex and diverse.
How does society react to ageism?
Just as it happens with other inequality matters, either because of a lack of awareness, or because these are behaviours rooted in our society, or even because little is known about them, ageism is an issue that, despite its graveness, it often goes unnoticed: virtually invisible, but deeply rooted in our society.
Advertising and the audiovisual industry also play an essential role, and not always with a positive connotation. In most pictures, the tendency is to highlight young people, while cornering the old ones. An increasing practice in digital environments, which tends to enhance the immediacy and speed of processes.
Age is negatively associated with ineptitude, to being dependant, and to the risk of suffering from certain diseases. But behind this idea, reality shows that age means experience, and this is certainly a point to mirror and not to set aside.
Initiatives against ageism
Despite there is still a long way to go, society is beginning to become aware of it. Scientific, health, and social organizations from 43 countries have promoted a global campaign against ageism under the slogan #OldLivesMatter.
From October 1, 2021 (International Day of Older Persons) to November 20, 2021 (World Children’s Day), the World Health Organization is launching an ambitious global campaign with the slogan Combatting Ageism, which will initially include content focused on older people, to gradually shift to young people.
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