WHO DEFINED AGEISM?
Ageism is a modern phenomenon. The word ageism was first introduced by Dr. Robert Butler in 1969 and since then, many researchers and organizations have attempted to define and describe ageism. Dr. Butler himself asserted at least three definitions.
Butler, 1969: “Age discrimination or age-ism is prejudice by one age group toward other age groups”.
Butler, 1975: “Ageism can be seen as a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this for color and gender. Old people are categorized as senile, rigid in thought and manner, old-fashioned in morality and skills… Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different from themselves, thus they subtly cease to identify their elders as human beings.”
Butler, 1980: 1) Prejudicial attitudes toward the aged, toward old age, and toward the aging process, including attitudes held by the elderly themselves; 2) Discriminatory practices against the elderly, particularly in employment, but in other social roles as well; and 3) institutional practices and policies which, often without malice, perpetuate stereotypic beliefs about the elderly, reduce their opportunities for a satisfactory life and undermine their personal dignity.
WHY THE DEFINITION CHANGED
Butler’s definitions became more complicated as his own research, and research by others, investigated ageism. For example, his first definition in 1969 was focused on age discrimination between different age groups, not just against older people. However, his definitions in 1975 and 1980 defined ageism as only relating to aging and older people, and he added descriptions of how ageism develops and the consequences of ageism. Butler’s work is a perfect example of how an objective researcher contributes to empirical knowledge and the ongoing refinement of that knowledge. It also provides a perfect starting point for a blog about the differences between ageism, youthism, and age discrimination.
AGEISM, YOUTHISM, & AGE DISCRIMINATION DEFINED
In the simplest terms, ageism is bias against aging and older people and youthism is bias against younger people, but there's no negative bias against growing up like there is against aging. Age discrimination refers to actions taken against individuals in age groups that are viewed negatively. In other words, age discrimination is a consequence of ageism and youthism. Age discrimination is wrong when it is committed against a person of any age group. However, it is legally defined by federal law that begins to protect people at age 40. This age-based standard acknowledges the increased difficulties of finding employment and affordable housing as we reach middle age and grow older.
SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF AGEISM
What makes age discrimination distinctly a more serious issue for older adults than younger adults is that when we become older, the effects of the age discrimination can be more difficult or impossible to overcome within the person’s lifetime. For an older person, a single act of age discrimination can set off a cascade of traumatic events, some of which may be irreversible. For example, a period of unemployment can lead to homelessness and even a brief period of homelessness can bring about events that cause poor health, injury, or lead to death.