Daddy and Mommy
Mommy's Father

Is Ageism Retreating?

David Wolfe of Ageless Marketing, for whom Crabby Old Lady has unbounded respect, took issue recently with a statement on this site’s About page. He happened to read it on the day it was being updated, so the paragraph he refers to is no longer there, but the section he questions was:

“It is stunning how little popular writing there is about [growing old]. And it is shameful how older people are treated by every aspect of American culture.”

David took issue with that statement and says:

“Things are changing, and doing so in a large way. It’s just that we have a hard time seeing the changes much as travelers on a great ocean liner don’t readily detect the changes in the ship’s directions…

“A host of negative attitudes on aging that have been in place in the West for generations, even centuries, are dissolving. It is a wonderful time in which to grow old.”

Reasonable people can disagree and while Crabby Old Lady thinks any time is a good time to grow old (assuming you don’t buy into the prevailing cultural attitudes) she disagrees that things are changing in a big way. Until the culture as a whole treats older people with as much as respect and interest as those younger than 40 or 50, we will continue to be maligned, belittled, disparaged, discriminated against and abused. Crabby sees no significant decline in these attitudes and behavior.

Television is the most pervasive arbiter of popular culture, but the only time older folks are portrayed in television commercials is for constipation, arthritis and denture adhesive. Crabby hasn’t seen anyone past 30 driving a new car on television lately. Or wearing an iPod. Advertisers still believe the 18-49 demographic is the only one worth courting.

When 74-year-old Doris Roberts, who plays the mother on Everyone Loves Raymond, testified before Congress two years ago specifically on the topic of Aging Image in Media and Marketing, she noted that ageism is “the last bastion of bigotry.”

“…society considers me discardable: my opinions irrelevant, my needs comical and my tastes not worth attention in the marketplace. My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding…

“What these thirty-year old executives don’t realize is how impoverished their world is by focusing only on the limited perspective of youth.”


Crabby has spent a bit of time (yes, some wasted) checking out television for positive portrayals of older people. The only reasonable ones she has found besides Doris Roberts are Jerry Orbach on Law and Order (and he’s left the show now) and Tyne Daly on Judging Amy. For every not-too-loony grandparent portrayed, there are more than enough disparaging references to older people as when a cop on Law and Order referred to a witness as “a gummer who can’t hear either.”

Hollywood movies are no better than television. Kim Basinger, who is only 50, recently complained:

“It depresses me that there are so few roles written for grown-up women…For every woman in this branch like Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon, who thanks to their talent are able to keep their career continuing, there are a dozen well-known actresses older than 40 who can’t get any roles anymore.”
-, 17 October 2004

Let’s do keep in mind about aging actresses that without modern medical procedures, their shelf life would be even shorter. And don’t cite to Crabby the movie Something’s Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton as proof of the existence of movies about older people. That was released nearly two years ago and there hasn’t been an engaging or highly-promoted film about folks on the latter end of life since then. One every five years is not good enough.

Age discrimination in the workplace outside of show business is rampant too, as Crabby well knows from personal experience. She won’t repeat herself today, but you can read her friend Ronni’s takes on this issue if you are interested.

Even in this year’s presidential campaign, both candidates seeking the senior vote - supposedly the most sought-after demographic in the election - speak only of Social Security and prescription drugs, further cementing old age as time of decline, disease and debility. As former Denver congresswoman, Pat Schroeder, noted at the inauguration of GrannyVoters earlier this year:

“Part of that ageism, stems from how you’re viewed in the political arena as a bunch of greedy old grannies. All of us were frustrated with the shortsightedness of politicians when they talk to people our age. It’s all about how much our pills cost.”
- Rocky Mountain News, 13 September 2004

And the repetition of this shortsightedness is an additional reinforcement of the image of older people as unhealthy, selfish burdens to society.

This too-lengthy response to David barely scratches the surface of the many ways ageism is perpetrated upon western culture day in and day out. The extreme amount of marketing done for products and medical procedures to reverse outward signs of aging send the same message as outright prejudice. As Becca Levy, professor at Yale University School of Public Health, who specializes in issues of aging, frequently notes:

“Look at all the talk about plastic surgery and Botox. The message is, ‘Don’t get old.’”

It could be that the humongous chunk of demographic humanity, the baby boomers, will change attitudes and thereby, cultural behavior too, but the only evidence Crabby Old Lady has seen so far is the proliferation of television commercials during all three evening network news broadcasts for drugs that treat disorders of the aging – all negative images.

If, as David says, change is on its way, Crabby needs an acceleration of its progress: she'd like to find a job before she is dead.


I think it's the boomers who will make the big difference in ageism--their sheer masses will once again have a big effect on cultural attitudes. Once they are all over seventy, it will be cool to be old. Unfortunately, this will not help Crabby get a job.

I hope you're right, Nina. Meanwhile, I like Crabby's telling it like it is: she'd like to get a job before she's dead. Who even uses that word? It's always "passes" or "goes up." Crabby doesn't duck anything; she rocks! and we need her to form us baby-boomers into a wedge against advertisers and media in the near future.

Hi Crabby:

You said "Until the culture as a whole treats older people with as much as respect and interest as those younger than 40 or 50, we will continue to be maligned, belittled, disparaged, discriminated against and abused."

Well, I am a senior citizen myself, one who commands respect and interest by being respectful towards others, and interested in others rather than a self involved person complaining about every ache, pain, illness that others can not fix, or every real or perceived slight. I also don't harbor unrealistic expectations of what others SHOULD do for me.

I have to say that this attitude that we senior citizens are not respected is part of the problem.

Perhaps it is not age that invites lack of respect, but behavior.

The wise elder is sorely absent in our American culture. Older folk drive cars with license plates that bellow: "we are spending our children's inheritance."

Many plan on depending too heavily on their children rather than being self sufficient, and others plan on dying shortly after retirment. Thus, they do not invest in the future, and spend the years immediately after retirment spending large amounts of the resources travelling and playing.

There is a saying, and I paraphrase here: It is difficult to respect someone whom you pity, and it is impossible to like someone whom you don't respect.

One earns respect. One is not OWED it. I am embarrassed by older people who EXPECT or feel entitled to be treated a certain way, simply because they managed to live to a certain age.

In any case, organizations like AARP and this website, need to help empower people to plan for their older years so that they can be self suffiicient. They should not be encouraging them to whine and blame, and harbor unrealistic expectations.

To many articles about aging focus on how the children can help the parents.

This neglects to take into account that a LARGE segment of the baby boom generation put children on hold for careers, and thus waited too long and now have no children due to fertility issues.

In addition, if you read the obituaries, it is not UNCOMMON for the old old to outlive ALL their children.

IMO, if the senior citizens want respect, they have to start behaving in a way that commands respect instead of continuing to whine and moan about the younger generation or their own children.

It is a psychological fact that people avoid people who have unrealistic expectations.

I don't have any expectations of what my children should do for me.

Thus, I have planned for my own future so that my children will be glad to see me when I come around, and will be able to actually enjoy my company, rather than just seeing me as huge looming potential burden.

Here's a suggestion: Perhaps the old can start helping themselves by starting organizations in which the healthy, retired older folk volunteer to help the weaker retired older folk. Also they need to lobby the Government to put policies in place that will help them and the following generations navigate old age more comfortabley

Perhaps, too, they can explore shared housing, instead of living in isolation. Afterall, younger people in their 20s often share homes with roommates in order to have company and to share expenses.

Most older folk, I speak to about this, are adamantly opposed to sharing there home with a roomate for company and to offset expenses. Why is that?

Lastly, IMO, it is important for people to focus on changing their OWN negative behaviors, the behaviors that naturally lead to negative reactions from others.

It is much easier to change one's own behavior than to change the behavior of others. Particularly if the main goal in changing someone else's behavior is to simply change it in a way that behooves oneself.

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