Lilian, age 70, has lunch with her daughter at the restaurant. When the server approaches, she orders a burger and fries. Yet, the young waitress turns to the daughter and asks “How does she want the burger cooked?” Ageism at work. Invisibility of aging—personified.
Sam works a summer job and the age of 16 decides to start an IRA. But, he cannot because he’s not old enough. Another form of ageism at work.
Ageism. It cuts both ways. It divides. It is invasive and insidious. In children as young as age three, we see the roots of ageism in their retreating from older adults and not making eye contact. By age 10, children depict their negative attitudes about growing old in their artwork. The “old people” are often portrayed as small (a form of invisibility of aging) with an assistive device and alongside negative adjectives like “smelly”.
Research has shown both older adults and adolescents internalize this socio-cultural ageism, defining themselves by the negative stereotype which results in health and longevity deficits. On the other hand, positive attitudes about our aging can extend our lives by 7.5 years.
Ageism is exasperated by the age-segregation we are now experiencing. Many of us spend our days with people in the same age cohort—from infant childcare rooms to nursing homes and every stage in between. This has been exacerbated over the past 50 years by many changes in our families and social networks, economic and work habits, use of technology, and the mass media. One of the ramifications of this age-segregation is that social isolation is on the rise, especially among older adults and adolescents, with the health detriments equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
The aging network is uniquely positioned to make intergenerational (IG) engagement a priority. Intergenerational programs provide intentional opportunities for any skipped, non-adjacent generations to engage in activities that support the well-being of all involved. When professionals in the longevity field unite generations in strong IG programs, they:
Professionals in aging may take the following concrete steps to support intergenerational approaches:
A comprehensive, multifaceted approach is needed to create a truly age-integrated world where people of all ages are valued and are interdependent. Professionals in the longevity field must build the infrastructure and lead the way. Through intergenerational pathways and opportunities, we can create places where growing up and growing old is both supported and celebrated.
Want more from Andrea J. Fonte? Here’s the book she recommends to longevity market professionals.