Half of your coworkers are ageist (but toward the young)

Ageism is a global challenge, according to the United Nations.

And, you might be surprised at how many of your coworkers are ageist and don’t even know it. 

A report released by the World Health Organization found that ageism is more widespread than we previously thought, and it’s leading to social isolation, healthcare rationing, discrimination, and a wide variety of excess costs – over $60 billion in the United States alone. 

What can we do about this phenomenon? 

What is ageism?

Ageism is discrimination based solely on a person’s age. 

For instance, losing your job, receiving a lower quality of service, being looked over for a promotion, or being denied health insurance because of your age are examples of ageism.

Age-based discrimination and prejudices exist in all facets of life, including the workplace. And some of the time, we don’t even realize that we’re being ageist. 

Ageism does not just affect the old. The younger generation is affected as well. 

The effects of ageism

The World Health Organization report found that young people’s voices are often denied or dismissed in areas like employment, health, and politics. 

The report also showed that across almost 150 different age-related medical studies, age was a determining factor in medical procedures or treatments in 85% of those studies. Healthcare rationing based exclusively on age is widespread. 

Ageism has serious and wide-ranging consequences for people’s health and well-being, the World Health Organization said. The effects of ageism include poor physical health and even mental illnesses, along with financial insecurity and a decreased quality of life. 

“An estimated 6.3 million cases of depression globally are said to be attributable to ageism. It intersects and exacerbates other forms of bias and disadvantage including those related to sex, race, and disability leading to a negative impact on people’s health and well-being.”

The existence of ageism extends far beyond the borders of the United States. 

A Yale study of 7 million people found evidence that ageism affects people in at least 45 countries and across five continents. 

“The injurious reach of ageism that our team documented demonstrates the need for initiatives to overcome ageism,” said the study’s senior author and Yale professor Becca Levy. 

The study uncovered mental health conditions such as depression, physical health complications, and even a shorter life expectancy among victims of ageism.

The study also confirmed the World Health Organization’s findings that age is used to govern access to, and the duration of, medical treatment. “Evidence of denied access to health care treatments was found in 85% of all relevant studies.” 

How to combat ageism

Many countries have enacted laws that forbid age discrimination, but as these reports have found, laws are not always an effective deterrent to discrimination, especially if we do not realize that we are being discriminatory. 

The WHO said a focus on education to help dispel age-related myths and enhanced empathy toward both younger and older people could help decrease ageism. 

Censor Bureau data reveals that by 2030, over 20% of U.S. residents will be 65 or older, due in large part to improved healthcare and medicines designed to boost life expectancy. And, this makes it all the more important that we curb the spread of ageism. 

The Hartford recommends a 5-step approach to combatting ageism starting with admitting to ourselves that age discrimination exists and needs to be confronted: 

1. Recognize that it is happening. We cannot fix what we don’t acknowledge is there. 

2. Speak out. If we see it happening, say something. Don’t remain silent. 

3. The golden rule: Treat other people the way you want to be treated. If you don’t want to be treated in a patronizing way, then don’t do that to others, either. 

4. Include everyone. Resist the temptation to exclude people based on their age. You might be surprised at what younger – as well as older, people bring to the table. 

5. Behave differently. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself inadvertently being ageist. Just recognize it and take the steps necessary to change your behavior.