I first experienced age discrimination when I started applying for a full-time teaching position after I had turned fifty. Others were defining who I was based on my age. I experienced plenty of humiliation and disappointment until I finally had an opportunity to interview with a hiring committee of peers.
Aging Isn’t the Problem—It’s Ageism
As is often said, aging isn’t the problem. It’s ageism – or stereotyping and discrimination based on age. The World Health Organization reported that ageism is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice and is not widely countered—like racism or sexism.Individuals may experience being stigmatized because of age by the time they are fifty or even earlier. A recent AARP study revealed that nearly 2 out of 3 of workers 45 or older had seen or experienced age-discrimination on the job.
We’ve Got the Power
No one likes to constantly feel stigmatized – like they are the ‘other’ and don’t belong. And it is really unnecessary that any of us should – after all, nearly 35% of people in the U.S. are 50 or over. Collectively, we also control the majority of disposable income in this country. We’ve got the power to define who we are!
It’s Up to Us to Define Who We Are
We can define ourselves by staying active in our communities and by investing our experience and talents where needed. By doing this, we are communicating the message that we are active, involved, and have a lot to offer community members of all ages.
We can define ourselves as learners by continually growing in knowledge and skills. When I was still teaching at a community college, one of my students was a sixty-year-old woman. At the beginning of class, she told everyone in our class that she was attending college so she could keep learning. She also said that she wanted to learn from the younger people in the class. Other students loved her. On the few occasions when she couldn’t attend class, other students inquired about her.
We can meet up with younger generations and share perspectives. Some of these opportunities are more structured or formalized such as Gen2Gen groups that foster cross-generational communication and work for a common purpose. Other opportunities may be less formal such as when family members from different generations ask each other questions about their perspectives and experiences.
We can use our power as ‘others’ to connect and to engage in social activism. Mayor Pete, the first openly gay presidential candidate knows what it is like to be the ‘other’ when discrimination based on sexual orientation still exists in this country. He shared that being open has empowered him.
It is empowering to openly claim and embrace who we are as older adults. We are empowered to stand with any individuals who have experienced discrimination or stereotyping. What we have in common with each other is far greater than our differences. We can actively promote and support equality and respect for all people.
We do not have to let others define us based on our age. We’ve got the power to define ourselves.