There are several forms of ageism which fall under two general categories: prejudicial ageism, or the negative stereotyping of people on the basis of age, and discriminatory ageism, or denying people opportunities on the basis of age.
Implicit ageism is the term used to refer to the implicit or unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors one has about older or younger people. These may be a mixture of positive and negative thoughts and feelings, but gerontologist Becca Levy reports that they –tend to be mostly negative.– 
One way that implicit or explicit ageism may manifest is through the use of patronizing language with older or younger people. The term "patronizing language" specifically describes two negative methods of communication: overaccommodation, which consists of a person being excessively courteous and speaking simple and short sentences very loudly and slowly to an older or younger person, with an exaggerated tone and high pitch; and baby talk, which involves practically the same uncomplicated speech with an exaggerated pitch and tone that one uses when talking to a baby, differing in the content of the speech. These tend to downplay the serious and thoughtful contributions of older or younger persons to society, while reinforcing a negative image of them as dependent people with deficiencies in intellect, cognitive and physical performance, and other areas required for autonomous, daily functioning. People who engage in this type of speech treat older members of society as if they have regressed to an infantile state, or treat younger members of society as if they have never progressed beyond an infantile state.
Ageist stereotyping is a tool of cognition which involves categorizing into groups and attributing characteristics to these groups. Stereotypes are necessary for processing huge volumes of information which would otherwise overload a person, and they are often based on a "grain of truth" (for example, the association between aging and ill health). However, they cause harm when the content of the stereotype is incorrect with respect to most of the group or where a stereotype is so strongly held that it overrides evidence which shows that an individual does not conform to it. Stereotypes are used to interpret the world around us. For example, age-based stereotypes prime one to draw very different conclusions when one sees an older and a younger adult with, say, back pain or a limp. One might well assume that the younger person–s condition is temporary and treatable, following an accident, while the older person–s condition is chronic and less susceptible to intervention. On average, this might be true, but plenty of older people have accidents and recover quickly. This assumption may have no consequence if one makes it in the blink of an eye as one is passing someone in the street, but if it is held by a health professional offering treatment or managers thinking about occupational health, it could inappropriately influence their actions and lead to age-related discrimination.
Ageist prejudice is a type of emotion which is often linked to the cognitive process of stereotyping. It can involve the expression of derogatory attitudes, which may then lead to the use of discriminatory behaviour. Where older contestants were rejected in the belief that they were poor performers, this could well be the result of stereotyping. But older people were also voted for at the stage in the game where it made sense to target the best performers. This can only be explained by a subconscious emotional reaction to older people; in this case, the prejudice took the form of distaste and a desire to exclude oneself from the company of older people.
Stereotyping and prejudice against different groups in society does not take the same form. Age-based prejudice and stereotyping usually involves older people being pitied, marginalized, or patronized. This is described as "benevolent prejudice" because the tendency to pity is linked to seeing older people as "friendly" but "incompetent." This is similar to the prejudice most often directed against women and disabled people. Age Concern's survey revealed strong evidence of "benevolent prejudice." 48% said that over-70s are viewed as friendly (compared to 27% who said the same about under-30s). Meanwhile, only 26% believe over-70s are viewed as capable (with 41% saying the same about under-30s).
"Hostile prejudice" based on hatred, fear, or perceived threat (which often characterizes attitudes linked to race, religion, and sexual orientation) is less common with respect to the elderly, and more common with respect to youth. There are examples, including excessive rhetoric regarding intergenerational competition, and violence against vulnerable older people, which can be motivated by subconscious hostility or fear. Equality campaigners are often wary of drawing comparisons between different forms of inequality. But abuse and neglect experienced by vulnerable older people may kill more people each year than the shocking but relatively isolated cases of public violence motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The impact of "benevolent" and "hostile" prejudice can be equally severe but tends to be different. The warmth felt towards older people means there is often public acceptance that they are deserving of preferential treatment in certain circumstances. But the perception of incompetence means older people can be seen as "not up to the job" or "a menace on the roads," when there is no evidence to support this. Benevolent prejudice also leads to assumptions that it is "natural" for older people to have lower expectations, reduced choice and control, and less account taken of their views.
Age discrimination refers to the actions taken to deny or limit opportunities to people on the basis of age. These are usually actions taken as a result of one–s ageist beliefs and attitudes. Age discrimination occurs on both a personal and institutional level.
On a personal level, an older person may be told that he or she is too old to engage in certain activities, while a younger person may be told that he or she is too young to engage in certain activities.
Age discrimination in hiring has been shown to exist in the United States. Joanna Lahey, economics professor at Texas A&M University, found that firms are more than 40% more likely to interview a younger job applicant than an older job applicant.
In a survey for the University of Kent, England, 29% of respondents stated that they had suffered from age discrimination. This is a higher proportion than for gender or racial discrimination. Dominic Abrams, social psychology professor at the university, concluded that ageism is the most pervasive form of prejudice experienced in the UK population.
There is considerable evidence of discrimination against the elderly in health care. This is particularly true for aspects of the physician-patient interaction, such as screening procedures, information exchanges, and treatment decisions. In the patient-physician interaction, physicians and other health care providers may hold attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are associated with ageism against older patients. Studies have found that physicians often do not seem to show any care or concern toward treating the medical problems of older people. Then, when actually interacting with these older patients on the job, the doctors sometimes view them with disgust and describe them in negative ways, such as "depressing" or "crazy." For screening procedures, elderly people are less likely than younger people to be screened for cancers and, due to the lack of this preventative measure, less likely to be diagnosed at early stages of their conditions.
After being diagnosed with a disease that may be potentially curable, older people are further discriminated against. Though there may be surgeries or operations with high survival rates that might cure their condition, older patients are less likely than younger patients to receive all the necessary treatments. It has been posited that this is because doctors fear their older patients are not physically strong enough to tolerate the curative treatments and are more likely to have complications during surgery that may end in death. However, other studies have been done with patients with heart disease, and, in these cases, the older patients were still less likely to receive further tests or treatments, independent of the severity of their health problems. Thus, the approach to the treatment of older people is concentrated on managing the disease rather than preventing or curing it. This is based on the stereotype that it is the natural process of aging for the quality of health to decrease, and, therefore, there is no point in attempting to prevent the inevitable decline of old age.
Such differential medical treatment of elderly people can have significant effects on their health outcomes.
Ageism has significant effects on the elderly. The stereotypes and infantilization of older people by patronizing language affects older people's self-esteem and behaviors. After repeatedly hearing a stereotype that older people are useless, older people may begin to feel like dependent, non-contributing members of society. They may start to perceive themselves in terms of the looking-glass self -- that is, in the same ways that others in society see them. Studies have also specifically shown that when older people hear these stereotypes about their supposed incompetence and uselessness, they perform worse on measures of competence and memory. These stereotypes then become self-fulfilling prophecies. Older people may also engage in self-stereotypes, or taking their culture's age stereotypes to which they have been exposed over the life course and directing them inward toward themselves. Then this behaviour reinforces the present stereotypes and treatment of the elderly.
Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index
Age Discrimination –
Discrimination in Employment –
Elder Abuse –
Older Workers –
Seniors' Rights –
Age Discrimination – Ageism – Aging/Elderly – Discrimination – Discrimination in Employment – Elder Abuse – Older Workers – Prejudice – Retirement – Seniors – Seniors' Rights – Stereotyping
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