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Ageism: when aging becomes a reason for prejudice

Human aging is undeniable, however, some myths about old age have a negative impact on the lives of older people. To better understand ageism, the “pre-concepts” related to the elderly and how to deconstruct them, psychologists Rebeka Nascimento dos Santos (CRP 05/58097) and Lillian Furlan de Melo (CRP 08/28301) explain this very relevant topic. Check out!

what is ageism

Ageism, ageism or ageism are translations of the English term “ageism”, created by the psychiatrist Robert Neil Butler to define prejudice based on age. In other words, it is age discrimination against people or groups.

According to psychologist Rebeka, ageism refers to “the stereotypical image of the elderly and discrimination against older people”. The professional explains that the concept encompasses all forms of prejudice that involve aging, the mistaken view that exists around the elderly.

In turn, the psychologist Lilian states that “you can understand ageism as negative actions related to age in general, however the most common practice evidenced is against the elderly”.

Rebeka also says that “there is a discriminatory view towards the elderly, who sees them as an individual with white hair, difficulty walking, health problems and reduced productive capacity”. Consequently, this stereotype ends up segregating the elderly population from other people.

Another relevant issue to be put on the agenda are the impacts caused to women by age discrimination. “Obviously, ageism affects men and women, but unfortunately, due to issues already known in relation to gender and beauty standards, the weight of prejudice for the female audience seems to be even greater, according to research”, says psychologist Rebeka.

Both professionals emphasize the need to break this stereotype, reinforcing its deconstruction, since “gender, race, religion, culture, social class or age do not define an individual”, as stated by Rebeka.

Examples and cases of ageism

Age bias takes many forms. After all, as previously mentioned by psychologists, there is a misguided belief in aging that segregates and limits older people. The following cases of discrimination exemplify how ageism can occur and raise important reflections on the subject.

  • Actresses of “Sex and the city”: in mid-2021, after the announcement of the return of the cast of “Sex and the city” to the small screen, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays “Carrie Bradshaw”, and actresses Kristin Davis ( Charlotte York) and Cynthia Nixon (Miranda Hobbes) have been bombarded with criticism from the media and the public regarding their appearance.
    “Ageism is everywhere, from the famous to the unknown. The series’ actresses were criticized for aging. It seems that no one remembers that we will all grow old one day”, points out psychologist Rebeka. She continues: “That’s what prejudice does, it devalues ​​people’s effort, talent, skills and abilities just because they’re older.”
  • Madonna: Another famous case of this discrimination happened with the singer Madonna, when she released the video for the single “Medellín” with the singer Maluma, in 2019, at the age of 60. Criticism directed at the artist, who kept the style characteristic of her career in the new album, insinuated that the song and the video did not correspond to her age.
    Rebeka explains that this is a characteristic of this type of prejudice. “Other people think that, due to their age, older people can’t do certain things, like dress a certain way, have romantic relationships, express themselves as they want, and that’s not true”, adds the professional.

Although both cases are of famous people, make no mistake. Ageism is a constant occurrence in the daily lives of ordinary people: at home, in the job market or in public places. In the video below, Gilda, Sonia and Helena, from the channel “Avós da Razão”, comment on episodes in which they suffered from this type of prejudice. Check out:

Age discrimination generates relevant impacts on the lives of older people. Now that you know what ageism is and how it manifests itself in practice, better understand the causes and consequences of this prejudice in the next topic.

Causes and consequences of ageism

As is well known, any kind of prejudice impacts the lives of victims, and ageism is no different. See below what the psychologists said about the causes and consequences related to ageism.

The causes

The way human existence is seen and how we experience life, in addition to the daily advances in different areas of knowledge, contaminate concepts related to aging. Lilian and Rebeka explain this, highlighting some of the main causes of ageism. See below:

  • Extreme appreciation of youth, which, according to Rebeka, “is often seen as the best phase of life, and reinforces the belief that older people cannot act in a certain way or do certain things”.
  • Great discrepancy in the way of life between different generations. According to Lilian, this is divided into two points: the increase in life expectancy, thanks to advances in medicine, and the constant updating of technology and its appreciation in contemporary life.
  • The erroneous stereotype of the sick, frail, weakened, dependent, unproductive and incapable elderly person that, according to both professionals, segregates and limits the elderly population.

Its consequences

As you know, every cause has a consequence. The impacts generated in the lives of older people, due to prejudice, result in consequences that were also addressed by psychologists. Check out:

  • Social isolation, which, according to Rebeka, can occur “from the elderly to other people and from people to the elderly”.
  • Loss of self-esteem, which occurs as a direct consequence of valuing youth and stereotypes about aging.
  • Decreased cognitive ability. According to the psychologist Lilian, “it occurs because of infantilized, paternalistic treatments, simplistic speeches, slow speech, of poor quality, which reduce the subject to a single factor of its composition: age”.
  • Depression, due to isolation and feelings of loneliness, incapacity and loss of autonomy.

Both professionals point out that there needs to be a transformation in the way society sees aging. “When we talk about diversity, we’re not just talking about this or that minority. We are talking about all those who experience prejudice daily and are affected by it, and that includes the elderly”, says Rebeka.

Ageism in Brazil

According to several surveys, the growth of the elderly population in Brazil increases more rapidly every day. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, states that, in about a few years, Brazil will be the sixth country with the highest number of people over 60 years old. However, as the elderly population increases, social investments for this population seem to stagnate.

According to Lilian, “in Brazil, there is no investment in any considerable field to build a society in which the majority will be aged”. The psychologist also points out another survey, carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which states that, in 2060, about 25% of the Brazilian population will be elderly.

Psychologist Rebeka also points out that, despite the laws prescribed in the Elderly Statute, the general population seems to be unaware of their rights and duties in relation to the subject, which ends up reinforcing age prejudice even more.

“It is necessary to disseminate information on aging, methods of inclusion for this population, a social deconstruction of the stigmas of old age and, of course, more supervision and punishment in the face of prejudiced acts”, says the professional.

Is ageism a crime?

Both professionals claim that discrimination against the elderly is a crime and has punishment. According to article 96 of the Elderly Statute, prescribed under Law No. 10,741, of October 1, 2003, discrimination based on age, with acts of humiliation, disdain, contempt, intimidation or impediment and difficulty in accessing banking operations, means of transport, among other things, constitutes a crime with a penalty of imprisonment from 6 months to 1 year and a fine.

Rebeka also points out that, “to denounce, the victim or other people who witness the discriminatory acts can contact the municipal councils for the elderly in each municipality or file a report”. In addition, for more information and clarification of doubts, it is also valid to contact the Municipal Secretary of Human Rights and Citizenship of the region where you are located.

How to end ageism: 8 phrases to stop using

It is possible that, in everyday life, you have already used some of the following phrases without realizing the discriminatory and stereotyped content they carry. Check it out and be careful not to continue reproducing ageist speeches:

  1. “You’re too old to do this.” (going back to school, changing careers, dating, etc.)
  2. “You’re not old enough to use this.” (a piece of clothing, an accessory, etc.)
  3. “Sorry for the question, but how old are you?”
  4. “You don’t look your age, you’re very well preserved!”
  5. “You must have been a very beautiful young woman!”
  6. “He forgot? It must be age.”
  7. “You are old enough to be his/her mother.”
  8. “You are very lively, you have a young soul!”

It is necessary to understand that aging is not a stigma or a doctrine. Getting older doesn’t mean losing your life’s purpose or having to stop being who you’ve always been. It is a natural event and deserves to be lived in the best way, deconstructing taboos. For that, how about giving a “get there” in low self-esteem and strengthen your self-confidence and self-esteem?


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