One major challenge facing elders around the world is ageism, discrimination or prejudice based on age. Discrimination is the unequal treatment of individuals because of their membership in a certain group. Ageism is based on prejudices––inflexible attitudes about a particular group of people based on stereotypes––against older people. Common ageist prejudices include views of the elderly as physically feeble, unskilled, simple minded, self-absorbed, dull, and inflexible. In its mildest form, ageism is a series of negative attitudes that lead to older people being marginalized (treated as insignificant), ignored, or condescended to. This can lead to social isolation––a loss of social contact with others and a lack of a sense of connection to society. Even well-intentioned behavior, such as offers of assistance, can cause elders to fear losing their independence or to feel they have been relegated to inferior status. In this way, ageism can contribute to problems such as elders' loss of self-esteem and depression. In the extreme, ageism leads to mistreatment and abuse of elderly people.
Ageism exists around the world. However, culture and social factors such as wealth, race, gender, and geography affect how an elder might experience ageism. In the United States and other industrialized societies the workplace is a major vector through which ageism is experienced. The process of industrialization in the 19th century shifted social power away from older men to younger men who could sustain long hours in factories. In the 20th century the transition to an information economy placed pressures on older workers to adapt to technology that younger colleagues have grown up with. Younger people are more likely to be comfortable learning to use tools, such as new kinds of hardware and software, in the workplace. Changing technology is more often an obstacle for older workers. Even typing skills are important in an information economy, where so much work is done on a computer. Older workers who came of age during a time where there was no expectation that they would need to know how to type can find themselves at a disadvantage in a wide range of professions.
Other consequences of ageism include loss of income and impacts on health. Loss of respect in the workplace can lead to reduced income and poverty. Because of ageism, family members, government officials, and health care professionals may treat elders' concerns as excessively demanding or unreasonable. In some cases, this can lead to negative health outcomes. Cutbacks in social welfare spending for the elderly can have major negative impacts on their health and well-being. This is especially problematic within industrialized societies such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which have large and growing populations of elders.
|U.S. Laws and Policies in Support of Older Americans|
|1935||Social Security Act establishes a system of retirement and disability insurance. The old age assistance system gives cash payments to elderly Americans.|
|1952||Federal funds are used to fund social assistance programs for the elderly.|
|1965||Medicare provides health insurance for people over 65. The Older Americans Act provides funding for a variety of social services and programs for the elderly, as well as for research and training related to aging.|
|1967||The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits workplace discrimination against people over 40 based on age.|
|1975||The Age Discrimination Act prohibits age-based discrimination in programs that receive federal funding.|
|1990||The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires access to public and private buildings and facilities be provided.|
|2010||The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prohibits health insurance companies from denying claimants based on preexisting conditions.|