Ageism in 2020
Take our survey about ageism in 2020.
While many “isms”—such as racism, sexism, and ableism—are widely considered unacceptable, ageism is one that seems to remain a gray area. As the World Health Organization puts it: “ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice, and is not widely countered.”
On the young end of the spectrum, people are limited on the basis of age all the time—and it can be hard to distinguish when this is necessary and when it is unfair. Driving, working, voting, and drinking alcohol are all things that the law tells us we must be a certain age to do. More informally, in the workplace, promotions and responsibilities are often not granted to employees until they have reached a certain level of seniority, regardless of their capability.
On the older end of the spectrum, the same kinds of legal limitations do not generally exist; in fact ,there are laws that seek to prevent age discrimination in the workplace. However, they are often difficult to apply—employers will lay off older workers and attribute it to other reasons, even if age is secretly the driving factor. These laws are also controversial even among older worker themselves; some worry the laws discourage employers from hiring older works for fear of being charged with age discrimination should they eventually need to move them along.
The bottom line is: even as ageism affects millions of people around the world, it remains a challenge to both identify and combat it. Particularly because the aging process does invariably transform our bodies, minds, capabilities, and perspectives—perhaps sometimes serving as a legitimate proxy for maturity or competence—it is hard to pinpoint the many examples in which it is the basis for illegitimate discrimination.
To better understand ageism, we’re asking you, our readers, to weigh in. Please complete this survey and stay tuned for our analysis of the results. We’d like to know: do you think ageism more often occurs towards young people or old? Where do you see it most often: in your workplace, family, national politics, entertainment, or elsewhere? Have you experienced ageism yourself? If so, were you aware of it at the time? How did you handle it? In order to more thoroughly combat ageism we have to first understand it.
Eve Driver is a freelance feature contributor and a graduate of Harvard University. She writes on a variety of topics including aging, climate change, and political polarization. Her work has appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Harvard Political Review.