Sociedad · 01 March 2018

Ageism: No more prejudice

Por cenie
Edadismo: No más prejuicio - Sociedad

Ageism is nothing more than age discrimination, a form of prejudice against the elderly. Most of us recognize that discrimination is unpleasant in all its forms, but it seems that there are some curious aspects of ageing that make it different from other types of discrimination.

Generally, when we discriminate against others, we choose them as the "external group", with negative characteristics that separate them from us, the "group". But with ageing, we really avoid a group that we will inevitably join later in our life, as if we discriminated against our future selves.

Researchers refer to this phenomenon as the "paradox outside the group". Almost everyone considers that ageing is preferable to the alternative, and since we can not alter the path, we choose to reimagine the destination. We reason that we are from a new era, and we will not have the same traits as the older adults of today when we get there.

According to reports, Dr. Robert Butler, an eminent gerontologist, coined the term "ageism" in the 1960s, but the practice seems to have been around forever. Perhaps more disconcerting is the research that indicates that it is the middle-aged, rather than the young, who are the worst "offenders".

A research published in the International Psychogeriatrics magazine reveals that middle-aged people tend to see old age around the corner and feel the need to maintain their own image of themselves by denigrating those who are older. It is not surprising that people in this demographic age also judge that the onset of old age occurs much later than younger people.

The World Health Organization also has its sights set on this issue. According to the World Values ​​Survey, which was conducted on more than 83,000 people in 57 countries, attitudes towards older people in all age groups were taken into account. In the opinion of 60% of the respondents, the elderly are not given the respect they deserve. Curiously, this problem is more marked in countries with a high standard of living, where the degree of respect for this age group is lower.

For John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Cycle of WHO, "this analysis confirms that ageism is a widespread phenomenon. Most people unconsciously let go of the stereotypes about the elderly. However, as with sexism and racism, we can modify these behaviors present in our societies and stop treating people based on their age. With this, we will make our societies more prosperous, equitable and healthy ".


First, it is necessary to know that no one is more aware of the stereotypes around older people than themselves. It is bad enough that all age groups are complicit in age discrimination, as if to add a greater "social acceptance" than other "isms", reason that makes ageism practically everywhere.

Some may argue that society is more tolerant to age difference than in earlier times, and there is likely to be evidence of this if we examine racism or sexism today compared to a century ago. But ageing, on the other hand, may have worsened in modern times.

Dr. Todd Nelson, from California State University, notes that older adults were considered wise teachers in traditional societies, guardians of accumulated knowledge and institutional memory. He argues that two historical events have conspired against older people to diminish their status in society. The first was the advent of technologies such as printing, which allowed to preserve and disseminate the accumulated knowledge at the expense of the collaboration of the elderly. The second was the industrialization of society, which demanded mobility in families to go where the jobs were, and left out older adults because they were less "adaptable".

Whatever the roots of discrimination, people of all ages seem to be both the perpetrators and, eventually, the victims. It depends on our collective efforts to reconstruct the image of the elderly as competent, productive and social beings, or at least to recognize that the elderly are not different from the rest of us, they are simply young people who have grown up.

In addition to the stigma of harm, ageism has negative consequences on the health of older people, who often see themselves as a burden on others, making them prone to depression and social isolation.

Alana Officer, Coordinator of the Department of Ageing and Life Cycle of the WHO, points out: "The ageing of society can be positive if we maintain better health with age. But, for this, we must get rid of the prejudices against the elderly. Ageism can take many forms. We see it in the media, when they present the elderly as fragile, dependent and far from reality; in some discriminatory practices, such as the limitation of health services provided to the elderly, and in institutional policies, such as mandatory retirement at a certain age ".

A study, from the University of Liège in Belgium, published in the journal Child Development, highlights that children who spend more quality time with their grandparents have a healthier attitude towards older generations. The researchers examined 1151 children and adolescents.

"We asked the children to describe how they felt when they saw their grandparents, and those who felt unhappy were designated as having low contact quality, and when it came to age points of view, we found that the quality of the contact mattered much more. that frequency, "said Allison Flamion, a Ph.D. student in psychology, who led the research team.

The children used words like ugly, dirty, cruel, boring and slow to describe the elders: "Children need as many charismatic adults in their lives as possible." It builds confidence and increases their resilience. Unfortunately, the capacity for recovery is something which is in decline. "

"The results of this study sadden me as a psychologist," said Dr. Carr-Gregg, "As we become an ageing population, it is vital that young people educate themselves on the value of having grandparents or seniors in their lives. lives His experience and wisdom is invaluable. "

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal