October 11, 2019

Ageism: New Study Confirms What We Already Know


A recent article in the New York Times caught my eye. It summarized a study conducted by AARP that confirms what we already know: ageism in America is rampant in advertising and media. 

Consider these facts quoted in the study:
  •  more than a third of the country is 50 or older.
  •  About half of us over 50 are employed.
  •  We control trillions of dollars in purchasing power

OK, so we are not an insignificant slice of the demographic pie. Yet, the AARP results showed that:
  • We make up only 15% of media images
  • We make up only 13% of images showing people at work
  • Less than 5 % show us managing to deal with technology

What is prevalent are stereotypical media images of older folks either in hospital or medical settings, looking befuddled, and needing help from a youngster to use a computer or smartphone. More likely, our age group missing completely.

I know from personal experience that finding flattering, or representative photos for this blog is not easy. Rarely do I locate a photo of an older employee working at something other than an at-home computer, or as a clerk at a big box store. Photos of business people are invariably under 35. Clean-scrubbed, central-casting type couples with perfect grey hair in perfect home settings are available. Photos of regular people in regular housing doing normal things...not so much.

The solution the organization proposes is obvious: show more 50+ people somewhere other than in a doctor's office, wheelchair, or retirement home. Increase media representation of our age group that shows us not being confused, marginalized, or with your pants worn somewhere up around your armpits. Increase the availability of stock photos so advertisers and media outlets  have a wider choose of vibrant portrayals. 

All well and good, but is there anything we can do? Well, my suggestions may seem somewhat counter intuitive, but they involve ageism that begins with us. Do we act in a way that strengthens this basis against elders? Do we talk too much of the "good old days." Do we allow a clerk or office worker to disrespect us due to our age? Do we purchase products from a company that uses stereotypes to portray us? In short, do we feed the fire with our actions or inaction?

Do we treat others in our age group as less than fully functioning humans? We must remind ourselves that a lifetime of experiences reside in our somewhat saggy bodies that is overseen by a brain that has so much to share.

Sure, sometimes dementia makes it tougher for us to remember something. But, virtually all scientific studies make it clear that loses usually occur with short term memory. Ask me what I had for dinner three nights ago and it will be a struggle. Ask me how to market a product to someone who is indecisive or undecided, and I have all sorts of possibilities for you.

The next time a store clerk looks right through you to deal with a younger person behind you, politely remind him or her that you are standing right here, and would like to be served. Getting angry or sarcastic would be wrong; it would cement the image that person has of older customers. Thank the person behind you for their patience while you are waited upon, but insist on your right to not be invisible.

Never, ever, tell someone your age or older, that it is silly to (fill in the blank) at "your age." Going back to school, starting a business, learning to surf, setting a goal to hike in each National Park....whatever...no one is "too old" unless they are told so. There is no quicker way to shut down someone's enthusiasm and desire to gather experiences than to tell him or her it isn't possible. 

In the same vein, what limitations do you place upon yourself because of your age? True, physical or financial restraints exist. But, telling yourself you are too old for......only speeds up the process of retreating from life. 

A few nights ago I tried to remember some of the highlights of the past 18 years, the length of time I have been retired. I quickly remembered my time getting a ham radio license and eventually serving as president of a local ham radio club. Several years of intensive involvement in a prison ministry program was easy to remember; it was life-altering in several ways. Of course, this blog popped to mind. After all, it has been a part of my days for over nine years. 

Then, I struggled a bit. Surely in all this time there has been more. I pushed through my memory files and then other thoughts began to flow: involvement as a Stephen Minister and teaching several groups to become lay ministers, traveling oversees and around the U.S. with another couple.

More recently, a few years of Junior Achievement teaching, serving on a board at United Way, and now on the board of the local library friends organization. 

My experience list is not unusual at all. At 70, I have accomplished much of what I wanted to. But, I am not even close to being done. I am not ready for the age-police to tell me my best days are behind me, that I am only fit for playing with grandkids (fun as that may be), watching TV, and griping about the state of our rapidly warming and dysfunctional world, instead of taking some sort of action.

Ageism is allowed to affect us if we allow it to continue unchallenged and we inadvertently fulfill the stereotypes that limit us all.

Your thoughts?

29 comments:

  1. Hello, great post, Bob. I'm trying to defy ageist expectations. I'll be 66 soon and will retire from my 'encore' career in humanitarian emergency relief communications. However, a friend who founded 3 charities, one working with refugee kids in the Middle East, called me up recently asking me to be her chief of staff and comms manager. So off to my new career in humanitarian development I will go. Much prefer a fully engaged and meaningful life. At the end, looking back on my life I don't think I'd be proud of years of just taking it easy. Admittedly, I'll transition from 100% to 60%, a nice adaption to advancing age. Thanks for all your volunteer service described...well done! Lynn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are barely breaking stride, Lynn. Well done for your efforts, too. As more of us in this age group stay involved and visible, the perceptions will change. But, frankly, the burden is as much on us and anyone else.

      Maybe we all need a new hashtag: #defythestereotype

      Delete
  2. Good comments, Bob. I have never understood advertisers who intentionally insult their main customers, and I definitely don't understand people who would accept those insults and still buy their products. When a company insults my political directions, for example, or tries to impose what they perceive to be their correct view of society on me, I write their products off and never buy them again. Perhaps if more of us do the same they might get the message that they cannot get away with what they are doing, whether it is practicing ageism or hatred in some other form.

    Your comments around older people constantly wearing their age on their sleeve is also spot on. It bugs me to no end when people talk about nothing their aches and pains in public, constantly reinforcing that stereotype of older folks. When I run in the morning the hip hurts and the back is stiffer every time, but I will never mention it to anyone other than Deb. Instead I tell people to never give in to age and keep pushing through any discomfort. May not work for all but it does for me.

    If we all look in the mirror and realize the problem might start with the person staring back at us, maybe things will get better. But if we continue to allow ourselves to be stereotyped and degraded it will not. C'mon, people, we are the Boomers! We changed everything, so let's change an outdated stereotype.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right about the main topic of conversation at too many gatherings of seniors: health, doctors, and disability. It is almost of point of pride to have more infirmaties then the person next to you.

      I stopped going to a small group at our church for a couple of reasons, one of which was all the illness and hospital talk. Most of the group members are widows and I found too much gloom to want to spend 90 minutes every two weeks being reminded of my mortality!

      We do control a sizeable chunk of economic clout. It is past time to use it.

      Delete
  3. Hi Bob! I am actually so encouraged by all of the bloggers and others who are now writing about this issue....like this blog post. I think the more it gets put out there and reminds us all that getting older has many good benefits...the better. One thing I would add to your great list is that I think it helps to keep telling people our age...as we age. I am 64 and I want people to know what it is like at 64. You're putting out there that you are 70 is powerful. We need to encourage and inspire each other and you certainly do that. We might not be able to completely change the agism in our country but we can sure make a difference. ~Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Several months ago I joined a new gym. After a few minutes of conversation and my asking some obvious questions, the young man asked how old I was. When I said, 70, he seemed stunned. He noted that "you are not like most 70 year olds. You are so with it."

      At first I felt good that I come across as someone who doesn't fit his stereotype of a 70 year old man. Later, I was disappointed that he felt the need to point this out. Clearly, his comment speaks to an image problem partially of our own making.

      Delete
  4. I truly don’t get bent out of shape over stereotypes in the media. I know who I am and at one time in my youth I thought anyone over 40 was old. What goes around comes around so to speak. But I do get a little crazy over how on forms that have boxes to check pertaining to age how they usually group everyone over 60 together. There’s a huge difference between being 60 and being 90. Would it kill them to add another age bracket for the 60 to 75 crowd, for example? It's a small thing but it does add to the illusion that all older people are the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that you mention it, there is another action that p..es me off: being asked to take part in a online survey, but having it thank me and then dismiss me as a valid respondent when I indicate I am older than 64.

      Delete
  5. I ran across a great quote in travel writer Paul Theroux's latest book. When being disrespected by a group of young people (he is 78) he told them, "I have been to a place where none of you have ever been, where none of you can ever go. It is the past, and I spent decades there."

    ReplyDelete
  6. When I started at a different martial arts school earlier this year, I felt somewhat dismissed and assumed it was because of my age and gender. As I began sparring with folks, all younger and mostly men, I could see the surprise on their faces when they realized that I could hold my own. Now I'm taken seriously and that is FUN!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I just don't worry about it. Maybe it is because when I see those commercials, I think of my mom.I don't really need a model on tv to tell me that my friends and I are all over the book on our age.
    A year ago our age came to the front. My husband expressed that he was ready to move West again. "ill be 70 in a year, and Want to go home." "I need open space, stream fishing and camp fires." OK- we are doing it, but it will take three years.... With Alexa, small town stores and tiny church communities we will be fine.
    I don't need to be in charge anymore. I am enjoying things I haven't had time for- including the grands (homework over Alexa is awesome!). There will be wood working, food pantries and, to be honest, communities who care for the wisdom of their seniors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It all sounds delightful. We'd like to be in a small town, too. But, we aren't willing to put up with overpriced housing (think Califironia) cold or cloudy weather, and we want to stay close to the rest of our family. So, that means staying in the suburbs of Phoenix.

      The only camp fire for us is a portable fire pit when the nights get frosty (for us that means 50s).

      Delete
  8. I do not get upset with the media images of our age group either. I just don't care what the rest of the world thinks of me. I was at a home improvement store recently though and a youngish (under 40) woman was trying to buy a 50 pound bag of soil, but could not get it in her cart. She could not find a clerk to help her with it, so I grabbed it for her and put it in her cart. To be honest I probably could not have carried it more than a few feet , but I certainly could lift it. She was amazed. I was amazed she couldn't/wouldn't do it herself.
    Another young mom was coming out of our church after an afternoon meeting and found her car was dead as a doornail. She was beyond surprised that I knew how to jump a car off and was not afraid to do it. I just do my thing and let them be flabbergasted. What is going to happen to them when we are not around to take care of them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Two great examples of simply doing what we can do and let others figure it all out. Thanks for those perfect examples, Anne.

      Delete
  9. At the Calgary Stampede, chuckwagon drivers are not allowed to compete after they turn 65. I think this is ageism on a world stage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heavens, pilots of commercial jets are allowed to fly until they are 65. Having the same standard for driving a chuckwagon does seem silly.

      Delete
  10. Another personal finance blog was asking people what they do differently now that they are older and care less what others think.

    My response was that sometimes when I went to lunch at a restaurant I just ordered a big old dessert. It's heaven.

    You might do a column on that topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whenever possible, my dad would always eat his dessert first. He said it was the best part, so why wait!

      An interesting post might be about the things we can do differently as we grow older and wiser...like dessert as our lunch.

      Delete
    2. My opinion--Life's short; eat dessert first.

      Delete
    3. Anne I have a friend who always orders dessert along with her meal in a restaurant. Her justification? Dinner travels home in a box better than dessert.

      Delete
  11. Excellent points Bob. I decided to let my hair go au naturals (grey/white to everyone else) after I retired and the difference in the way people now engage with me as a result is striking. Some of it is pleasant but for the most part it is totally patronising as though the colour of my hair has in some way pushed me headlong towards imbecility.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting point. Guys rarely deal with this, but my wife can certainly relate. It is probably related to my age, but I find grey or white hair both normal and attractive.

      So there, young people!

      Delete
  12. I dont know if I get highly offended by the ads but I'm darn tired of terms like senior, elderly and old being applied from 60 or younger to 100. I mean, am I really in the same category of my almost ninety sister in laws mother? I walk.a little slow and I occasionally use a cane. But I'm not elderly and helpless. I do more on my smart phone than either of my kids Im up to date on most current music, art, tv and stars and the like. I enjoy hanging with people of all ages and my so called retired womens group is some of the busiest bunch I have ever seen. Many older than me. I do feel really offended at the discrimination that exists in the workplace and the like. I visit a blog of a professional sales guy who at 57 cant seem to even get a job in a warehouse and live with a sucky year old sister who likes working and has a degree and multiple skills who still can only get temporary work. And it can be really tiring when a doctor writes off every single new symptom as "aging".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A good rant that expresses what many of us feel. Things are especially obvious at this time of year with all the ads for Medicare choices. Some of the people on these ads are portrayed as dumber than rocks.

      "Aging" as the cause of a symptom...really? That is so lazy from a medical "professionnal."

      Delete
  13. Old joke, "The difference between the old rich and the old middle class, the old middle class has to talk about LAST years operation".

    At 71, I try to keep my mind busy.

    ReplyDelete
  14. PS I think each of those questions was worth its own post,LOL!!

    ReplyDelete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted