Ageism: The Four Types

Two of a nine-part series of articles on ageism.

The research and subsequent report, Ageism in America, by Dr. Robert Butler, President and CEO of the International Longevity Center, identified four different types of ageism. Types and definitions are in the words of Dr. Robert Butler. They are: personal ageism, institutional ageism, intentional ageism, unintentional ageism.

Let’s look at each type in a little more depth:

1) Personal Ageism – Ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and practices on the part of individuals that are biased against persons or groups based on their older age.

Many of us have heard or read the poem, Children Learn What They Live. It tells how all of us are affected and influenced by what we learn as children and how we carry those behaviors and belief systems into adulthood. If what we live is good and pure, we will flourish. If it is bad and tainted, we will most likely have “issues” that require inward reflection and hard work to straighten out.

Our attitudes about old age are learned as children as we witness how those around us react to it. There is also the influence of television show characters and media messages. Whether positive or negative, we will be greatly influenced by these external factors, and we will apply these attitudes to others as well as our own aging process.

Now is the best time to assess whether the lenses in our aging attitude glasses need an adjustment. It is well worth our time. Research at Yale University by Becca Levy has proven that having a positive attitude toward aging can add 7.5 years to one’s life.

2) Institutional Ageism – Missions, rules, and practices that discriminate against individuals and or groups because of their older age.

Although the term ageism was first introduced by Dr. Robert Butler in 1968, ageism is still very much embedded in our culture and our institutions to this day. According to Joseph F. Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy and director of AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it began in healthcare very early when there was a popular belief that a human being was given only so much life-force with which to live on. It alleged that when a person’s life-force was depleted, they would die. Even as the medical field progressed, ageism was firmly planted and thriving within its practice.

Ageism is also found in the workforce or employment. As America turned from an agricultural to an industrial society, people looked at employment as a zero-sum equation: for every older person in the workforce, one younger person was kept from entering it. This simply wasn’t and still isn’t true. However, during the Great Depression when jobs were scarce this zero-sum thinking led to mandatory retirement. There are few exceptions for mandatory retirement today, although some employers still hold ill-conceived perceptions about older workers. Most of us would rather choose to retire than be forced out of employment based on our age.

3) Intentional Ageism – Ideas, attitudes, rules, or practices that are carried out with the knowledge that they are biased against persons or groups based on their older age. Intentional ageism includes carrying out practices that take advantage of the vulnerabilities of older persons.

Scam artists are a good example of people who prey upon the vulnerabilities of older adults. They have devised all sorts of schemes using the telephone, mail, computers and even in person to access us. Once they have our attention, they con their way into getting hundreds – even thousands – of dollars out of us. They are so good at what they do that they can convince even the toughest of skeptics. They use psychological tactics that help them rob us of our money and self-dignity. Oftentimes, we are so ashamed that we fell for the scam that we are embarrassed to report it to officials as a crime. It’s not that we’re stupid or senile. It’s that these scam artists are just so good at what they do.

Not hiring someone based on older age is also intentional ageism and is against the law. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it is illegal to discriminate against job applicants who are age 40 or older. Many state and local laws contain similar prohibitions.

4) Unintentional Ageism – Ideas, attitudes, rules, or practices that are carried out without the perpetrator’s awareness that they are biased against persons or groups based on their older age.

Much of the ageism experienced in everyday life is unintentional – also called implicit bias. Ageism crept its way into the fabric of our society by using things such as humor to become something that has been widely accepted. Black birthday memorabilia, over-the-hill birthday cards, and senior moments are fine examples of this unintentional age discrimination. Much of ageism is passed down from generation to generation. Then, as Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” We become adults who filter life through a looking-glass we’ve held onto since childhood: one of implicit bias. It’s time we saw aging through a new pair of glasses.


  1. Keith Chipp

    Is it ageisem if you are matched or expected to do as many put aways from a delivery as sombody 20 to 30 years yunger than you


    • You pose an interesting question. When the focus is put on age rather than capabilities then it is ageist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thomas

    Nice article thanks. I will be 54 Saturday, I was again, for the third time in 10 years, downsized last September 2019. It’s been already, 4 months of pure unemployment, and again, if it goes longer, as the statistics support, it will be harder and harder to get a job.

    In 2010 I was downsized, and it took me literally 2.75 years to find another professional job.

    In 2015 I was downsized, and it took me literally 3 years to find another professional job.

    In 2019 September, again I was downsized and it’s been 4 months already.

    I’ve received in 36 short months over 1,678 rejections for jobs I applied towards where I was well qualified, and have six (6) notebooks full of those jobs documented.

    It’s sad when a felon can get a job easier than someone 55 and well qualified.

    Through it all, I have seen my savings dwindle to nothing to survive, I have lived in my car twice, and again I am headed that way again.

    I take less money, I am blessed with being healthy, but in survival mode again, constantly seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling through the HR and recruiter lies about being too experienced, or fighting the perception mentality that I am too expensive.

    The three O’s are alive and well, Old, Over Educated and Overqualified.

    I’ve lived it, and I am living it again. No one will hire me because they know if its lower paid, I will leave if I find something better, higher paying jobs won’t hire me because I am too old, that leaves me 13 years to SS time.

    What exactly is someone to do?

    Corporations have created a permanent unemployed class, with no insurance, no savings any longer, fighting to survive.

    I hate HR and recruiters more than politicians, they are all rookies. My resume is great, depicts value, and what’s in it for them, not about me, but what value I can bring to solve their problems.


    I’ve been told everything, from companies putting jobs “on-hold” to actually being hired, then being put through the ringer of passing all requirements to be told “the project is cancelled”, etc., etc.

    If they want to discriminate, they will and they know there is NOTHING we can do about it.

    When it takes 90 days advance notice to the EEOC, 1 hour away to even make a phone appointment, and they are constantly booked 90 days in advance, and will not take in-person calls or appointments, its just a worthless system.

    And the companies know it, and take advantage of it!! Lawyers will not even take a case when you have video or recorded proof. Pathetic.

    It’s going to get worse too, with the highest homeless rates currently, you really have to wonder who is sticking up for the older generations? No one!!

    Permanent unemployable class
    Not ready for retirement
    Made to work until 67 at minimum wages
    No health insurance

    Wow!! I can’t tell you how many stories like mine I hear and see everyday.

    Uber and Lyft to break even and not actually make any profit. Waitr and make $5 per hour, and lucky if you get tips.


    And on top of all this, the country is being flooded with illegals who work for cash, and corporations who import cheap labor under the guise of “labor shortage.”

    I think I’ll cross the border, loose my SS#, come back as someone else and do as they do. What a peaceful life!!


    • KIM Carlson

      I recognize this is a bit late. So is my beloved father. As a result of all of the circumstances you’ve described, he lost his life. Thomas, I pray you’ve beaten the bullishit we buy in to. Fight, fight for my late father, and fight for yourself. You are loved. I promise you.


  3. I am so sorry to hear your sad and all too common story. I’m glad you shared it with me and those who read this blog. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 is the act which gives the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) authority to sue in federal courts when it finds reasonable cause to believe that there has been employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It says nothing about age. I believe it’s past time that the Act was amended to include age. Stay strong, my friend.


  4. Doris

    Thomas, I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for you. I wish the system were different and fair. (Among other things, you are absolutely correct that companies who exploit the system by hiring people illegally are a stain on society.) May I ask, what is your occupational background? I ask because, in my heart, I want to see if there is anything I can do to help you get through to the EEOC or find a job in your field through social media. I understand if you would prefer not. Thank you for sharing and I hope you are able to get some justice soon.


  5. If you want to explore another aspect of ageism, try taking classes at a University under a senior citizens program. Being in classes with people young enough to be your grandchildren makes you realize how blatant their discrimination can be. The institution can’t or won’t respond because they don’t know how. “Respect your elders” is a thing of the past.

    You are most certainly a campus freak!


    • I believe in lifetime learning, but when the environment is hostile to those trying to learn, it makes it very difficult and uneasy – the same as if you are being bullied. Schools have policies on bullying and discrimination these days. They need to implement them. I believe universities tolerate many harmful behaviors these days. The socialization people can get from being in a class of people with like-minded interests of different ages is very healthy for all of them. Regardless, there is always the option of learning through college-level programs like The Great Courses on one’s own. Better yet, form an intergenerational group of your own with respectful people.


      • The ultimate goal is to earn BA, MA and PhD while focusing on age-related issues all the while turning the mirror on the institution itself. Every campus in the U.S. is about diversity and inclusion better age doesn’t seem to fit their definition of either. Time to change that. Time to revive the activism of The Grey Panthers!


  6. Joy

    Older as in distance in time and the awareness of the reality as in pertinence of living status.
    Hmm, Old is not the same to a young BUT entirely insignificant to a point OR more a matter to resolve.


  7. GATHU

    I was doing a research on ageism as an assignment. This article had it all. GOOD READ


    • Thank you. I also posted a bibliography of where I gleaned my information from to give credit where credit is due. You may want to check that out.



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