Stories of sexism and racism dominate the news but there’s an even more prevalent prejudice we rarely read about: Ageism. The term was coined in 1969. Two years later, the government outlawed rejecting job applicants for being over 40. Despite the law, age discrimination is more common than any other form.
It’s rampant in the workplace, where older workers can’t get hired, or are quickly pushed out the door. It’s widespread in the entertainment industry. Only 12% of Oscar-nominated actors are over 60. It’s a real nightmare for female actors, who have a brief career-cycle, passing from starlet to has-been in a few short years.
Some of these actresses contributed to the $15 billion Americans spent on plastic surgery last year. Besides facelifts, many dye their hair, or wear styles that are way too young. They cling desperately to youth. The irony is that older people don’t necessarily feel old inside. The self-image they formed in their 20s is still how many feel in their 60s.
I am 68 years old but never felt physically better in my life. Emotionally, I’m stuck at 14. Maturity-wise, I’m still in my 20s. I don’t have the energy level I had in my 20s but at least nothing hurts. I get exercise by walking the local streets. My wife runs these same streets. Staying active in retirement is a challenge.
My mental health has also improved. Many of us survived the emotional storms of youth and are somewhat at peace. I’m retired but almost 20% of us over 65 are still gainfully employed. In fact, households headed by this age group are wealthier than those led by 35-year-olds. I thought the elderly were supposed to be useless.
Old people didn’t always suffer discrimination. We used to be prized for our knowledge, wisdom and experience. These gifts are not in great demand during the age of Google. Our grandsons are too impatient to wait for an answer they can easily look up on their phone. They may see us as cuddly but clueless.
Age discrimination isn’t just directed at the decrepit. There’s a reverse prejudice that discounts the abilities of young adults. This can hold them back in the workplace.
Some older adults choose to avoid young people altogether by living in retirement communities. They prefer the serenity of driving a golf cart to the dining hall to dealing with noisy kids and their parents.
I’d rather live in a community with a diverse age-range, like Forest Park. I like sharing the streets with retirees, young parents pushing strollers and high-spirited kids. Although I’ve been mocked as an old man, I’m not buying into the myth that my age makes me less productive and not worthy of respect. I’ll always keep my spirit of adventure and sense of curiosity.
My curiosity led me to explore ways we can combat ageism in our community. We can welcome the elderly to live among us, rather than isolate them in retirement homes. We can check on them to make sure they’re OK. I see Altenheim and the Community Center treating our seniors with dignity and respect. I see average citizens doing the same.
I remember calling a 92-year-old neighbor to check on her. She immediately asked, “Do you want to come over to pay homage to me?” That was exactly what I wanted to do. When I arrived, a couple was just leaving. She is still living independently, thanks to a caregiver. Neighbors have also cleaned her house, cooked her meals and cared for her pets.
That’s how we reject ageism in Forest Park.