Ageism Through a Microscope


Why call ageism on the carpet whenever it is witnessed? Why question social norms that have been accepted for decades? Because the cure for this terrible social ill begins at the individual level – those who champion it.

It takes education on the subject to understand the impact that ageism continues to have on individuals and society as a whole. People have been raised with ageism being an acceptable form of discrimination with all its negative stereotypes. They are affected by the filters of life that influenced them and were developed in childhood. It’s time to grow up and be accountable world! It’s time to stop thinking, “it’s always been done this way.” In my opinion, it is very much a human and civil rights issue.

One of the best pieces of information and education on the subject was the comprehensive report written by the late Dr. Robert Butler, “Ageism in America.” (Butler coined the term “ageism” in his 1975 book, “Why Survive? Being Old In America,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1976.)

Inappropriate behaviors such as ageist ones may start small and seem inconsequential at first. However, they have a tendency to escalate if not checked, due to a desensitization process. It’s then that they become big societal problems that span a large range of social conventions and institutions.

Any good scientist will track a major disease outbreak back to its origin and analyze it under a microscope in order to fight it effectively. The same holds true for social scientists. That’s what the late Dr. Robert Butler did in his comprehensive report.

According to Butler’s report, during the industrialization of society, we gained an extra 30 years in the human lifespan; more than had been attained in the previous 5,000 years.  The opportunities and challenges that this change presents to mankind now and in the future has not been effectively addressed. There have been attempts, but they are failing today right before our very eyes. This has been on our radar (at least those of us in the aging field) for many years. Society, in large part, has not adapted to the demographic change that is aging as we know it today; much like they haven’t effectively addressed ageism.

People need to challenge ageism for the best possible future for all. However, it is difficult to deliberate the issue in the public arena because of the childhood filters many view it through. People get comfortable and used to the status quo. Society is infected with ageism and it’s hard to even begin the inoculation process because of strong defense mechanisms and denial.

In the end, it should be remembered that microscopes have been used to discover and help treat many devastating ills in the human population, giving us all a chance at better outcomes. This holds true for ageism as well.

The little things count!

AGEISM: Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.

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