The population is aging. The boomer generation is moving rapidly into a ‘mature adult’ status. For the first time in history, most people now being born can expect to live eight, nine, or even ten decades. This extraordinary demographic movement will effect the shape of societies across many western cultures as adults 60 and older become the fastest-growing segment of population.
Along with the demographic change, this cohort has its own set of norms and perceptions, of which ageism from both younger generations and the mature adult cohort itself can become an issue. Negative attitudes towards aging can blind us to the fact that millions of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are active, functional, experienced and talented — and that they want to remain engaged and contributing. But, society may not be accepting of the contributions being offered.
It’s not only the young who, consciously or unconsciously, diminish the older population, it can be the peer group itself. Negative portrayals build upon age stereotypes that people internalize throughout their lives. Often these stereotypes never disappear and can be emphasized in later years which supports historic perceptions.
According to the stereotype embodiment theory by Becca Levy, “ageism in media and marketing is often absorbed in childhood. So when people reach or pass through middle age, they may be already infected by cultural disdain toward their own demographic and limit themselves with low perceptions of self-worth. These flawed self definitions may impede their own well-being and health. Because ageism can be entrenched on a subconscious level, it can be implicitly accepted and can be an impediment over time if not modified.”
The research also suggests that those exposed to more positive images of aging can change their thinking and act upon the modified ideas.This exposure can change less favourable personal viewpoints even if addressed mid-life.
Ageism, although entrenched in many of our mindsets is not new. Recently the conversation is gaining a lot of attention with the changes in labour demands and societal pressures due to increasing human longevity and diminished population replacement. Retiring at 65 will become a thing of the past as the work force pushes the boundaries of how long a career lasts. This new paradigm requires a different way of thinking about aging and working and what assets a 65 or even a 75-year-old brings to an organization. Concepts such as graduated retirement are growing in various organizations whereby an employee retires over the period of 2-10 years gradually reducing hours and days. Of course this is dependent on employee abilities, contribution and work availability.
Ongoing new research suggests there are opportunities for change:
- We need to analyze issues through a lens on aging that recognizes the value and goals of experienced older adults and not diminish their capabilities and the valuable contribution they make to a more wholesome and productive society.
- Communities, governments and organizations can support older adults by changing their own aging concerns and perceptions in the workplace.
- Encourage self-motivation: One method, as Lifetimedaily.com suggests, is to find intrinsic motivation. This involves the pursuit of goals that have personal significance, such as volunteer work. The enthusiasm of doing something fulfilling can be the kick-start to a new paradigm of leading by example rather than living in the past.