ELDER MUSIC: Franz Hoffmeister, et al
The Vice Presidential Debate Tonight

United Nations Takes on Worldwide Ageism


”While older persons are often said to enjoy particular respect, the reality is that too many societies limit them, denying access to jobs, loans and basic services. The marginalization and devaluing of older persons takes a heavy toll...

“Ageism frequently intersects with other forms of discrimination based on gender, race, disability and other grounds, compounding and intensifying its effects...

“I condemn ageism in all its forms and call for measures to address this violation of human rights as we strive to improve societies for people of all ages. This demands changing the way older persons are portrayed and perceived, from being seen as a burden to being appreciated for the many positive contributions they make to our human family...

“Let us mark the International Day of Older Persons by forcefully rejecting all forms of ageism and working to enable older persons to realize their potential as we honour our pledge to build a life of dignity and human rights for all.”

That is a portion of the message from Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, marking the International Day of Older Persons that was held on Saturday, 1 October 2016. You can read his entire message at the U.N. Website.

John Beard is director of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations. This is a short video from him about ageism that was released in connection with this week's Older Persons events:

In that video, Beard references a just-released analysis of a U.N. survey involving 83,000 people of all age groups in 67 countries. From the news release about it:

"'This analysis confirms that ageism is extremely common...' said John Beard...'Like sexism and racism, changing social norms is possible. It is time to stop defining people by their age. It will result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.'”

The news release references the growing body of research showing that people who hold negative attitudes toward being old live on average 7.5 fewer years than people with positive attitudes, something I first wrote about nearly four years ago.

Alana Officer, Coordinator of Ageing and Life Course at WHO, mentions some of the many ways ageism is made manifest:

"'These include depicting older people as frail, dependent, and out of touch in the media, or through discriminatory practices such as health-care rationing by age, or institutional policies such as mandatory retirement at a certain age.'

“Age limits applied to policies such as retirement age for example, do not recognize the range of capacities of the older person – and assume that all older persons are the same.

“This deeply entrenched institutionalised ageism may be used to discriminate against older adults when allocating health resources or when collecting data that influence health policies.”

In September, USC Annenberg released their study of how people age 60 and older were portrayed in the 100 top grossing films of 2015. Among the findings, they report, “In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.” Further:

Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments — that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.”

Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.

Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Television portrayal of elders is just as infrequent and disrespectful, and the repetition of these negative portrayals ensures to many people that the stereotypes reflect reality.

If you have been reading this blog for more than a little while, none of this information is new to you; I rant on about ageism quite frequently. What surprises and depresses me each time – and turns up in almost all discussions of ageism elsewhere too – is how many old people themselves deny that ageism matters or even exists.

We all know that the United Nations, moreso even that individual countries, moves at a snail's pace but I am heartened that the organization is working toward equality for elders.

It is particularly important that John Beard of WHO notes that our progress in combating sexism and racism makes such changes in ageism possible too. Forward movement is agonizingly slow but we know it can happen.

So I will keep banging away about ageism and age discrimination because it is the right thing to do and because, too, if I don't continue to insist, it will change me in ways I won't like.


I love your post today, Ronni. It's all true- the way seniors are depicted in movies, life, all of it, and some seniors act like it's their lot in life to be treated like yesterday's news.

Yesterday our cycling group rode a 52 kilometre trail along the Yamaska River in the Granby- Waterloo area. We enjoy riding the many bike paths on and off the island of Montreal. What I most enjoy about our group, though, is the laughter we share when we stop for our picnic in the woods.

We talk about everything. Politics, family, our former jobs. We come from all kinds of professions. Teachers, engineers, airline executives. What we do now, is volunteer our skills in a variety of places, such as senior homes, hospitals, food banks, meals on wheels, palliative care, veteran's hospitals.

What is so good about this? We have found positive ways to use our acquired skills. Keeping busy doing positive work is one of the keys.

Pushing back against ageism all the way.

Go for the long game of living.

All good stuff, to be sure. But the grammar Nazi in me can't help being irritated by the use of the term 'older persons.' It is what's known as a 'dangling comparative' - a grammatical error much used by advertisers but totally meaningless. (Older than whom? Everybody in the world is an older person because we are all, except the absolutely latest baby to get born, older than somebody.)

Given the current qualifying ages for pensions, it would probably be more correct to say something like: 'old people' (i.e. people in their seventh decade or older). But then all the ageists would scream,"Who me? I'm not old!! I'm sixty years young." (Blech!!)

Ronnie your comments are true, right on the money.
Maybe in the future, if less men go for the Wilfred Brimley look, they won't be such obvious targets? The truth is at 70, we are 1 doctor's appointment from happiness.

Absolutely, Ronni, keep banging away at this—as we all should. Ageism is not going away anytime soon, but all major movements take time and a effort. We shouldn't become discouraged,although, of course, we do from time to time. I laughed at Marian's assessment that 'older person' is not a good term to describe us. I've wrestled with this, and have recently changed my references to 'older persons' from 'seniors', senior being the most despised term around, it seems! There doesn't seem to be a perfect term!

I agree completely, Marian, but I made a deliberate decision for this post to ignore it to not detract from the larger issue. Not to mention that the final phrase was undoubtedly argued among the nations at the U.N. before an agreement was worked out. (And god knows how that went for translations to other languages.)

I'll take this issue on with the U.N. when I'm allowed to work for as long as I want. I'm just happy to see ageism listed equally alongside sexism and racism. That doesn't happen often.

Excellent post Ronnie. I'm going to toss something in the mix of ageism. Older adults, our selves, sometimes contribute to the various labels. I belong to various groups, some mixed ages, some just older people. I've noticed in the older people, the discussions usually end up with talk about physical health issues. No right or wrong about this, it just is, but it can become a bit boring. It is sad if this becomes the sum total of a life well lived. Some of my dearest friends have always been older...they have a spark of life that is ageless...they are current with the world and very engaged in life...

What's saddest to me is the role many older people play in perpetuating the myth. I think we unintentionally learn at an early age what being old means and we carry that with us throughout our lives. Some people had great role models but even then the background message always seemed to suggest that getting old was not a good thing. One example is when someone says you don't look your age, which is meant as a compliment. But what's wrong with looking like 60, 70 or 90 if there's nothing wrong with being 60, 70 or 90? Ageism is the last accepted prejudice and we all have to fight back.

As to what to call us, "old and senior" seem to paint us in a definitive way we don't like. Studies have shown baby boomers are more comfortable with being "older" because it hedges all the bets!

What is wrong with 'old people'? We say 'young people', so why not 'old people'? I have been championing this for years. If we don't call a spade a spade, certainly no one else will. The change begins with us, not everyone else.

I'll be attending the morning session of the 2016 International Day of Old Persons Celebration at the United Nations this Thursday. It's free and open to the public. I expect to hear some interesting and (I hope!) encouraging information about how the world is confronting ageism.

I have learned to speak up when I hear an ageism comment.

I cringe every time I hear the words "Pops", or "Old Timer" or some other ageist explicative used on TV or the movies.
Using words like that immediately dismisses any ideas or thoughts the character has as being outdated or useless.

A side note:

"Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed."

When I read that, I couldn't help but think... isn't that pretty much the way television disposes of everyone? But I don't watch TV, haven't for years, so I went looking.

Found this article. Quote: "26 percent of characters were shot; 16 percent were stabbed; 9 percent killed themselves (including for the greater good). The other minor categories for causes of death included supernatural causes, illness, explosions, poisoning, suffocation, and beating." Huh, guess I was right...

And it's not much like real life. This is an interesting site here. (You can sort columns there by clicking on the column headers.)

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