Ageism is prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of age - not just ‘old’ age. These attitudes mostly affect older people, but whether old or young, the heart of the problem is ‘our’ attitudes. These prejudicial and discriminatory categorizations have evolved over time to become accepted stereotypes passed on from generation to generation. Stereotypic perceptions of old or young people have become generally accepted, even by those discriminated against, just as if they had been brainwashed or conditioned to accept them. Youngsters may use derogatory words such as ‘fuddy-duddies’, ‘old coots’ or ‘codgers’, when referring to elderly men, and when describing elderly women they may call them ‘old hags’, ‘witches’ or ‘doddery cows’. None of these epithets are endearing or acceptable when describing the elderly. On the other hand, older people referring to teenagers can be just as scurrilous with words like ‘layabouts’, ‘druggies’, ‘hoodies’, ‘floozies’ and ‘boozy boppers’. Sometimes you may feel there’s an antipathy between young and old - some sort of warfare or alienation. This is to be discouraged by acknowledging that all people, if they live long enough, experience childhood, middle age, and old age. There need not be artificial groupings on account of age; rather there should be recognition that there’s a gradual transition from the cradle to the grave.
Middle-aged people are not generally affected by ageism, except in these times of high unemployment when workers are being made redundant. An employer, for example, may prefer to continue employing a youngster on low wages instead of a mature worker on higher wages. Even with the Age Discrimination Act, employers do not pay identical wages to all workers doing similar jobs, but employees are fearful to complain, because they may lose their jobs.
There are some practical measures we can take to re-educate ‘our’ entrenched prejudices. We can recognize and demonstrate by acceptance that whatever age a person is, he has something to offer, whether youthful enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, or an eagerness to share skills and knowledge on the part of older folk. Take people for what they are and what they can do, and give them respect. By using terms like ‘little old lady’, ‘doddery bloke’ or ‘senile fogy’, we demonstrate our own prejudices and discriminatory attitude. We need to initiate change in ourselves, in our homes, schools and the workplace.