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Ageism Against Older Adults

via Ashia

Resources & talking points about Ageism against older adults

Okay let’s try this out. This is a first draft and work-in-progress. I’m short on time, so for simple but time-eating tasks where I could use help, I’ll mark these spots with an asterisk (*).

Also, please add any good resources you find in the comments! Please include your age, since perspective matters.

I’m 37 right now in 2020. For reference! So you know I’m NOT speaking from lived experience, but doing research in the effort of accomplice boosting.


This is where I’ll add a glossary of terms and references about controversial & inclusive language Comment below if you’d like to add some simple definitions (similar to what we provide in the SIS Toolkits)

  • Ageism – Systemic discrimination against people based on age, against age groups who hold less social power (around ages 19 and younger and people 50+) than those whose age is seen as the ‘norm’ (ages 20-50)
  • Childism / Adultism – Discrimination against children and teens. This is most often called ‘Childism’ but there is a high-ranking google result by…I think it’s the app makers of Toca games? And they really muck up the language claiming ‘adultism’ is the bad one. So it’s confusing now because their google rank alone can sway our language.
  • Older Adults /  Olders – Preferred identifier among the loudest cohort of the anti-ageism movement (mostly white, youngish women in their 50’s-70’s. I refuse to use ‘olders’ – it’s very…white feminism.
  • Elders – Use of this term is controversial, as some cultures know it as a term of respect and an identity that has been earned. Others consider it a reinforcement of a non-existent binary or segmentation (ex: Youth v. middle ages v. Elders) that erases the fact that age is a spectrum. And/or they are white and don’t consider ‘elders’ a part of their culture. Since the use of binaries is a tool of supremacy and normalizing oppression, we should be mindful of that.
    • Use of the term ‘elder’ can also imply authority, which harms older adults the same way a model-minority myth harms Asians (ex: Racism isn’t real because of positive stereotypes!)
    • I started our series on ageism against older adults using ‘elder’ language because 1. It is a deep and meaningful part of my culture. 2. I do mean people who are set apart from young folks (older adults is a little vague since our target audience are tiny children and young parents, so ‘older’ might even mean folks in their 30’s), and 3. the importance of respecting older adults as #OwnVoices authorities. But I’m trying to find a smooth way to swap to ‘older adults’ that make it clear we’re talking about 55+.
  • The Elderly / Senior citizen / Geriatric – Basically everyone agrees that ‘The elderly’ is a term that diminishes older adults. Many also feel this way for Seniors, although that’s still in common usage, particularly when it comes to legislation and business stuff, while Geriatric is still used as a medical term.
  • The Fourth Age – Most often referenced in social journals, this usually references people who are ages 80-85 and above, assuming this is the ‘last’ age before death, in keeping with many cultures (particularly Indigenous of Turtle Island) views of the 4 seasons of life. However, I’ve seen at least one journal that references the Fifth age and the necessity of claiming a fifth age due to medical advancement and technological advances that may expand more folks lives for a century or beyond.
  • The APA Style guide for bias-free language breaks down sub-groups pretty nicely.
  • And the AARP goes into some more detail on the shifts in language many people ages 50+ identify (reminder that the AARP is very white and leans moderate to conservative in politics and social issues).

How does ageism against older adults support the kyriarchy?

This is what we’ll be unpacking over the series of articles on ageism.

Intro resources:

Here are some basic 101 intro articles that introduce newcomers to the basics.

These are the kinds of articles you’ll want to share on social media just to raise awareness that ageism is an issue your community needs to be mindful of. They don’t demand much from readers.

  • The Ugly Truth About Ageism – Caroline Baum, featuring TED talk by Ashton Applewhite.
    • How language & stereotypes on older adults impact how willing we are to fight for their human rights and treatment
    • There’s an embedded video to Applewhite’s text talk. I go into more detail on Applewhite’s work further down. So if you watch the video, don’t get turned off just because of her.
  • Back-handed compliments: Microaggression listicle to easily onboard newbie accomplices.
  • There was a really great post floating round on Facebook & Twitter back in 2017 clapping back at younger people who blamed the complacency that led to the 2016 elections on older adults. It was about the ways generations before us paved the way. It was great, but I can’t find it now.

Deeper resources:

Still researching these and looking for more, but I’ve found the best stuff here. These articles require time and energy to engage with, so buckle in with some tea and hook up with your accountability partners to work through what you discover.

These are your go-to resources for reinforcing an argument, as they have the air of authority and expertise. They’re also helpful for uncovering some internalized bias and issues not covered in the more topical clicky-shary articles above. HOWEVER – these are not the deepest resources (see below for #OwnVoices).

  • The Gerontologist – Dig around in here, there is a lot of radical stuff disguised as dry academic-ease.
  • Valuing Old Age Without Leveraging Ableism – By Clara W. Berridge and Marty Martinson. Unpacking the problems with the medical model of aging. So subtly sassy. SO FREAKING GOOD.
  • Della G. (one of our Luminaries!) wrote this amazing book, the Morning Glory Record Keeper. Grab copy for your older friends and family, and work through it together, if they are into it.
  • Ageism in America – Covers the basics, but it’s a bit dated (latest citation was in 2005) and it doesn’t take into account major tech and cultural development shifts over the last 15 years. Such as… the legalization of gay marriage and the internet.

Primary Resources: #OwnVoices Self-Advocates

Individual activists & organizations run by and for older adults. These should be your primary resources – even above sociology journals, and particularly above the flood of articles by middle-aged adults who care for older people.


*Also see: Clara Lemlich Awards and 10 Senior Activists You Should Know and Next Avenue Influencers In Aging and this post where smart people added recommendations I need to comb through these to find multiply-marginalized folks whose work we should be following

  • Barbara Beskind (I percieve her to be white) – Product accessibility designer
  • Grace Lee Boggs (Chinese American, Black civil rights activist & Detroit community organizer) Highly recommend the documentary she created just before her death. I want to read all her books but they don’t carry them at our local library.
  • Kerima Cevik – Disabled Black woman & Founder of Intersected, coined #AutisticWhileBlack – and is generally the reassuring person who bears witness and offers comfort when I’m having freakouts at the intersection of existing while autistic, a woman of color, and raising a child with a disability. Kerima is a prime example of why we need to know and listen to people who have been here before us.
  • Larry Curley (Navajo man)
  • Angela Davis (Black woman, political activist)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg (obviously) (Jewish woman)
  • Suzan Shown Harjo – Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee Indigenous rights advocate, poet
  • Anne Karpf – Writer & sociologist who focuses on aging. I perceive her to be a white woman.
  • Emily Kame Kngwarreye – Indigenous Aboriginal artist (Alyawarra / Anmatjirra community)
  • Clara Lemlich – Ukranian American immigrant & labor rights activist, continued to organize through her life, including helping the staff at her nursing home.
  • Toni Morrison – Okay SURELY she’s written something about aging, but I’ll have to dig deep because every rando on the internet has something to say about Morrison and her age. (Barf.)
  • Harriet Nahanee ( born Pacheedaht, married into Squamish)
  • Jenny Sasser – Writer, founder of Gero-Punk. I perceive her to be a white woman.
  • Betty Reid Soskin – Black woman, oldest serving park ranger with the US National Park Service (as of 2020, she’s 98 years old and still going).
  • Valerie Stephens (Black woman, performer, sexual abuse survivor)
  • Betty White (actress) – Her entire career is performance art on breaking the glass ceiling but also minstrelsy spinning off stereotype about older women (we will write about this more, I’m calling it the ‘Grandma on a motorcycle’ trope for now). But also, I love her? Because she’s Betty White.
  • Harriet Tubman and her Home for the Aged & Indigent
  • Maxine Waters – Black woman, politician, trucks with no fools
  • Elizabeth White – Author, Black woman, ageism labor activist
  • Imani Woody (LGBTQ, I percieve her to be a Black woman)
  • Ashton Applewhite (Very White Woman) Spectacular at marketing, makes okay arguments for ageism as the a good target for collective advocacy, but says shit like “Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice” which is just the most classic white feminism thing to say. She’s been white, thin, non-disabled, wealthy, etc. – so she really doesn’t know much about prejudice beyond sexism and ageism. Applewhite is just fucking everywhere. She’s so loud, she’s co-opted the anti-ageism movement defining it by white standards only. She’s relentless in getting her name on everything, even going so far as to add plugs to her work in the comments of other activists’ articles. Which is not a bad thing – she’s advocating well, and that’s her job. But she’s also doing a kinda shitty job at boosting colleagues of color or passing the mic (beyond an overwhelming wall of links on her many, many websites, which feels very blog-rolly for social proof rather than collaboration).  So she takes up the first ranking google pages, sociology journals, etc. Everyone who ares about ageism links to her articles because they’re shiny and easy, and so many places are just the Ashton Applewhite Fan Club, they don’t bother to boost multiply-marginalized older activists. Her PR has created a thick white wall that has been aggravating to try to dig through. I haven’t found any reference to her influences or the people who paved the path ahead of her in anything relating to the anti-ageism movement (which is kind of…ageist?). She’s not one to pass credit, and you’d think she just spontaneously invented anti-oppression work.
    • Which is an article I need to write about – celebrating maker culture as if it’s inspired by and for children, without acknowledging the role of mentors and adults who provide resources that make tinkering possible.


*I haven’t had a chance to really check these out. Feel free to vett them for me.

  • *Raging Grannies
  • *Radical Age Movement
  • * https://www.weareageist.com/
  • Gero-Punk Project – Democratic moderate-progressive leaning
  • Gray Panthers – Mostly white so far as I can tell (but notice how they appropriated the name of the Black Panthers)
  • Old School – Resources & tools dismantling ageism (very, very white)
  • EveryAGECounts – This is an okay resource for anti-ageism topical articles, although it basically reads like a Ashton Applewhite’s personal fan club and I would SUPER LOVE TO SEE them highlight someone who isn’t a thin, abled white woman.
  • Refinery59 – I want this to be a great intergenerational resource, but the posts are just weak, diluted and underwhelming clickbait. While some articles interview older celebrities, a good portion of those celebrities are under 50, and the people writing the posts and doing the interviewing are young, and the target audience is young people. It’s funded in conjunction with (the conservative) AARP. They really half-assed it. Bleh.
  • #DisruptAging – Another AARP project. Appreciate that the articles aren’t written for a young audience, but the content is thin and centered on folks who aren’t multiply marginalized. The articles are written to center the dominant narrative – centering able-bodied, heterosexual, monogamous & married people without disabilities and painting younger people, people with mental health conditions, and weight gain as problems to be managed. Although these oblivious younger adults (who seem cherry-picked out of a character actor audition) are perpetuating some nasty stereotypes.

Educator Resources:

  1. What is Ageism? Teaching Tolerance Lesson plan for grades 6-12
  2. Early Children’s Literature and Aging – Sandra L. Mcguire (non-intersectional, careful!)

Kidlit Resources:

Sandra L. McGuire:

  • non-intersectional critical literary analyst
  • other than taking an anti-ageism against older adults perspective, the foundation reinforces mainstream cultural norms (white, cis, etc.) Many books written by or featuring POC are labeled as ‘multicultural’ which is othering and problematic for many reasons I don’t have time to get into now.
  • I haven’t fully read through the list, but glancing through the selections, I don’t think McGuire screens her recommended books with children, so many are disengaging and risk reinforcing bias against older adult in something akin to fundamental attribution error. Boring books make kids resent the subject. When we’re reading boring books about marginalized people in an effort to dismantle bias against them, shitty/filler/boring books create a negative bias about these groups.
  • Early Children’s Literature and Aging (2016)
    • Breaks down into very basic intro on how to vet stories & filter for tokenism: Quote:
      • “is the older character portrayed in a non stereotypic manner;
      • are older adults portrayed as valuable and contributing members of society;
      • does the older character play a vital role in the story;
      • is the older person portrayed as independent and active.”
  • Growing Up and Growing Older: Books for Young Readers (updated yearly)

Lindsey McDivitt

  • Haven’t had a chance to fully vet this website (*volunteers?) but from a cursory glace, McDivitt’s recommendations seem okay (I found several recommendations that I’d have included caveats on).



I kind of work backward when it comes to these – putting my thinker on the conceptual ways these things support each other, and then hoping someone else has written about it in a nice snappy article.

So these will have to come as I find (or write) them.)

  • Ageism & ableism
    • Valuing Old Age Without Leveraging Ableism – By Clara W. Berridge and Marty Martinson. I really can’t recommend this enough.
    • Kerima Cevik:“My body ages, and as it does it reminds me of all those times someone tried beat the hell out of me. My bones talk to me each morning. We try to come to an understanding about their obligations to me. Sometimes they shriek in protest, sometimes they agree to carry me through my days. I am 55 years old. I was told I wouldn’t live to see 30. So despite the increasing challenges of an aging disabled body, I’m beyond good. I’m fantastic. I live beyond the intent of those who tried to kill me and beyond the machinations of those who tried to belittle, humiliate, and destroy my mental and spiritual health. Existing with love and joy after all that’s happened to me is always humbling. It is why I’ll always be a Deist. I calculated the odds of my surviving any one of those moments when I should have died. Impossible odds happening repeatedly are just not statistically probable. So I believe in the existence of the Divine. I am not remarkable. I am just one female member of our Black disabled women’s community.”
    • Need to find or write something about the medical model of disability and how it ties to the intersection of aging.
  • Ageism & Colonization
    • So many things to unpack here. Will need to create an article if I can’t find a succinct one, but basically – almost all calls for decolonization require the fundamental work of listening to & respecting our elders.
  • Ageism against older adults and childism against young children

    • Nursing home caregivers use baby talk in addressing residents, regardless of a particular resident’s physical or cognitive health (Kemper, 1994). Elderspeak: Speech accommodations to older adults
    • We’ll have to write this up ourselves – I can’t find much because childism and presuming incompetence in young children is still under-explored in white culture, even more so than discrimination against older adults.
  • Ageism & deathmisia
    • I wrote up a whole thing bout this and the intersection of anti-ageism and death positivity. It’s in my notes somewhere. I’ll get to it eventually.
    • “Frequently what people are exposed to in relation to aging are the “problems” of old age and the pathology of aging. Older adults are often thought of in terms of the devastating d’s of: death, dying, dependence, disability, disease, and dementia. What results is often a “nursing home” mentality of aging, ageist attitudes, and gerontophobia.” – Sandra McGuire, Early Children’s Literature and Aging
  • Ageism & LGBTQiA2S+
    • Ohh! I found some good stuff somewhere but lost it. Will add the articles when I find them.
  • Ageism & racism
    • Rep. Lewis Speaks on Healthcare Obstacles for Aging Americans – Care-giving (and the financial ruin that results from it) disproportionately falls on women of color and people living in poverty.

    • Old White Men – How the bigotry of wealthy, powerful older white men creates a model minority myth that targets older adults who are not that one group
    • I’m encountering a thick white wall searching for anti-ageism activists. We discuss why multiply-marginalized activists are harder to find a little bit in the RL series (re: multiply marginalized people tend to be killed off younger)

    • But also…white feminist Ashton Applewhite sucks the air out of every space, everyone boosts her because she gives good clicks, and it comes at a cost because no one looks beyond her.
    • Stuff like ‘Black don’t crack’ and ‘Asian don’t raisin’ has a subtext beyond just presenting with wrinkles. When we claim that POC don’t age or age ‘better,’ that centers whiteness as the norm. We age, and we age appropriately. We just don’t age like white people. 
    • Tendency to view racial groups as monolithic and ‘other’ in treatment of older adults:
      • “[Kendig] warned against idealisation of Asian and Indigenous societies as having a greater respect for older people. “We tend to romanticise other cultures as valuing the elderly more than we do, but if we look closely at the evidence, it presents us with scenarios we find confronting. For example, the Inuits value older people highly. So much so that they put them out to die in the snow – at their own request. “Ageism has been found to be all-pervasive across eastern as well as western cultures, including Confucian-based Asian cultures where respect for elders and filial piety are social norms. It is possible that ageism is one of the main features of global ageing among modern, capitalist nations in which individual social views predominate over traditional collectivist views.” – The Ugly Truth About Ageism 
      • Also see: prevalence of Sage Asian / Indigenous / Black elder in storytelling
  • Ageism & sanism
    • Stereotypes of cranky old men & crazy old ladies lead people to disregard need for mental & physical health care (a variant of pathology of ‘hysteria’)
    • Older adults are attributed as grouchy, inflexible, slow to learn and innovate, and unreliable – leading to employment discrimination
  • Ageism & speciesism
    • Honestly, I’m not there yet. Will have to put some thought into this.
  • Ageism & Wealth inequality
    • Stereotypes of older adults include being very wealthy or very poor. Haven’t searched for statistics younger than 2005, will need to research more current stats.
    • Fifty-five, Unemployed, Faking Normal, by Elizabeth White: White is a Black woman, but she primarily focuses on the issue of age and employment discrimination, rather than race.
    • Mariann Alda: ‘Too Old For The Career You Love: Women: lose value, sexual currency > Now I’m casting a new spell about the positive message about vibrancy, vitality, and viability of women of all ages.
    • Pushed out of workforce: Older adults have a more difficult time finding gainful employment. They are seen as technology-averse, unwilling to learn new skills, difficult to manage (particularly by younger supervisors), too expensive, and not productive enough to justify the perceived increased expense The New York Times. 2009. “Older Workers Need Not Apply.” Room for Debate (blog), April 12. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  • Ageism & sexism
    • Calling older women ‘sweetie’
    • internalized toxic masculinity prevents older men from seeking medical treatment and preventative care. It also reduces opportunities for them to seek help when targeted by elder abuse
    • Women tend to earn less than men, spend more years doing unpaid labor in child & community care, and tend to live longer – leading to a discrepancy in social security and retirement savings


  • Erasure: Why we don’t hear from older adults as much as middle-aged ones.
    • We discuss why multiply-marginalized activists are harder to find a little bit in the RL series
    • (They are killed off young, because that’s how the kyriarchy do.)
    • Also Facebook and social media in general is a really hostile, toxic place that is not very welcoming for older adults. (They can manage technology just fine, it’s the youth supremacy and aggression they encounter that drives them away.) Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes
    • Marginalized activists die of burnout or are active targets – so fewer people with lived experience and wisdom on organizing actually get to be old.
  • Presuming incompetence & Saviorism.
    • I go into (probably too much) detail in this article about presuming incompetence in older adults.
    • Which I now realize should have been two separate articles, because half of it is about presuming incompetence and the second half is the next logical progression of oppression – saviorism.
  • Internalized Bias & Stereotype Threat
  • Elder Abuse
    • Lots of overlap with ableism & #DisabilityDayofMourning. Except for some reason it’s more tragic when the people who are murdered are young. (The reason is ageism)
  • Becoming marginalized
    • For many white/wealthy/etc. people with privilege, getting older is their very first brush with being the targets of oppression (see: Ashton Applewhite) and they tend to freak out a little. So those folks tend to be noisier than the people who saw it coming and knew what to expect. Oh! There is a good article about disability on this…I’ll have to find it
    • Because we view getting older as a bad thing, folks tend to push it off and pretend like it won’t happen to them (like climate change!) Older adults refuse to even identify as older adults.
  • Aging ‘right’
    • The myth that there is a ‘right’ way to age (which is to say, not aging at all)

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