Ageism

Introduction

Ageism refers to the discrimination of groups or people based on their age. It is often used to describe prejudicial attitudes, discrimination and stereotyping targeting older people as well as the aging process. Although ageism has been used to denote discrimination and prejudice against children and adolescent as well as ignoring their ideas due to the fact that they are young or presuming that they should exhibit certain behaviors due to their age, the concept of ageism is primarily used with respect to the treatment of the elderly. Ageism can affect the confidence and quality of life of a person. Majority of the elderly are physical and mentally active and are capable of making significant contributions to society age notwithstanding. Nevertheless, societal norms tend to marginalize the elderly and disrespect them. For instance, it is common to associate old age with memory loss, slowness, and being out of touch with the contemporary society. Ageism has negative impacts on the elderly in the sense that it limits their independence and choice, robs them of their dignity, and affects their quality of life. To this end, addressing the issue of ageism should be a top societal priority, especially with the increasing trend characterized by an aging population. It is now important than ever to curb its prevalence. This paper provides a background of the issue of ageism including the statistics and background data; the sociocultural factors contributing to the ageism; the political, economic, legal, practical, and ethical aspects of the issue; implications on the society; and sociological perspectives regarding ageism.

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Part 1: Background

The selected population segment is the elderly, which refers to people who are in their later stages of life, that is, the period that follows the middle and youth age. There is no universal definition of old age since it differs depending on the context. For example, the United Nations considers those aged 60 years and above as being elder. In other contexts such as Africa, the World Health Organization sets 50 years as the beginning of old age . In some societies, being elderly is not defined in terms of ones age; instead, it is defined by the gaining of novel roles, losing prior roles, and being unable to make meaningful societal contributions. In most developed countries, 60-65 years marks the commencement of old age for retirement and being eligible for social programs for the elderly 

A major social issue that affects the elderly is ageism. Being old increases ones susceptibility to discrimination that is not correlate to other factors such as socio-economic status, religion, race, or gender  Stereotypes associated with old age have resulted in prejudicial and unfair generalization that hinges on the presumption that the elderly are forgetful, frail and weak. Ageist attitudes are both harmful and hurtful towards the elderly. Ageism manifests itself in virtually all domains including employment, healthcare and social relationships among others. The manifestation of ageism occurs at both institutional and individual levels in the form of myths and stereotypes, voiding contact, outright dislike, and discriminatory practices and policies in various domains such as services, employment and housing among others. The most extreme form of ageism links old age with disease, disability and death. According to Nelson, ageism is characterized by the societal tendency to be structured as if every person is young; as a result, the needs of the elderly are disregarded. Ageism ideas are usually systemic and deep-rooted. Ageism is capable of inhibiting the objectivity of people. It also influences the decisions that people make at the macro (societal and government), meso (community and organizations), and micro (family and individuals) levels, with respect to human interaction, passing of laws, and development of policies. In most cases, ageism occurs without people even realizing. Societal members rarely question their beliefs and attitudes.

Ageism has been documented in the literature. Statistics paint a gloomy picture with respect to discrimination targeting the elderly. Although ageism does not get the same attention that other forms of discrimination receive, it remains a growing problem in the contemporary society. With the Baby Boomers generation nearing retirement, a significant number of younger workers are beginning to enter the workforce. Amidst this trend, discrimination based on age is likely to increase unless society is informed of the problem. A survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed that 64 percent of the elderly workers state that they have either experienced or witnessed age discrimination in the workplace. The same survey showed that 58 percent of workers are currently of the view that ageism in the workplace commences at the age of 50. McClure  points out that age has been a significant factor when evaluating and selecting employees, and has been reported in studies that date back to the 1970s. In another survey, it was found out that workers are more likely to consider it intolerable to have a boss aged over 70 years. The problem of ageism is not only in the US but global. In the UK, 2 out of five people claim to have been victims of discrimination based on their age. The same survey pointed out that, in the UK, 64 percent of people are of the belief that ageism is a significant issue. In France, 68 percent of people consider ageism a serious problem. Whereas people have admiration for older people, they are shown more pity, which is an indication that being elderly results in unhappiness and weakness. From these surveys, it is evident that ageism is more prevalent at the meso-level, particularly in organizational settings.

A number of social and cultural factors contribute to ageism. The first factor contributing to ageism relates to the fear of death in the contemporary society. Death is often conceptualized as not being part of the human lifecycle; thus, the fear of death makes people to avoid the elderly resulting in mistreatment and neglect. Death is often characterized by a lot of anxiety. People place a lot of emphasis on extending life and being healthy, and change their lifestyles as a means of avoiding early death. The second factor contributing to ageism is that society is obsessed with the young. Society is not ready to grow old. The obsession with the young is also evident in the media as evident the glorification of the youth. The outcome is the youth overshadow the elderly, resulting in some dislike for old age. These factors yield a negative image associated with old age; hence, contributing to age discrimination.

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Ageism is also characterized by political, legal, practical, and ethical aspects. In the political and legal context, numerous legislations have been enacted in an attempt to reduce the prevalence of the issue. In numerous countries such as Australia, Canada, and the US among others, discrimination based on age is illegal. In some jurisdictions, ageism has been defined as a impetus for hate crimes examples include the states of Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Nebraska, Minnesota, Maine, Louisiana, Kansa, Hawaii. Florida and California. In terms of practical aspects, governments are advocating for society to desist from actions that limit or deny opportunities for the elderly. In addition, because of their specialized needs, the elderly require to use special services such as in healthcare settings dedicated to addressing their needs such as geriatric units in hospitals. In addition, there are numerous ways in which ageism is utilized in practice, policy and law. For instance, age may defined as a criteria for being eligible to receive some entitlement, service or benefit. Age discrimination inherently presents an ethical dilemma for society. For instance, in the business world, companies are increasingly laying off the elderly in favor of young workers in grounds that they are no longer productive and beneficial to the organization. Emphasis on the needs of the old against the needs of the young presents an ethical quagmire to society.

Ageism is also perpetuated at the micro (individual), meso (community), and macro (societal) levels. At the individual level, ageism is perpetuated by people, mainly stereotypes and limiting the opportunities for the elderly to engage in certain activities. For instance, the elderly may be told that they are too old to take part in particular physical activities. At the institutional level, regulations and policies exist that hinder opportunities for the elderly. For example, the governments sets the age at which people are supposed to retire. At the societal level, people rarely evaluate their basis for their beliefs and attitudes. In other words, they just incorporate the societal values and norms into their own value systems without taking into consideration how they affect the elderly.

Ageism has personal, professional and ethical implications. For persons, ageism has been reported to affect the behaviors and self-esteem of people. When the elderly are stereotyped as useless, they start feeling useless and incapable of making significant contributions to society. The professional implications for ageism stem from the need to take care of the specialized needs of the elderly in a society that places significant attention on the young. This is evident by the establishment of social service programs for the elderly and having specialized units such as geriatric units in hospitals. In terms of ethical implications, the issue of ageism presents an ethical dilemma to society as previously discussed in the sense that society is at crossroads on whether to put emphasis on the young population or to address the needs of the elderly.

Sociological theories can be used to understand the challenges that the elderly face with respect to discrimination. Based on the functionalist theory, the elderly are perceived to be less useful, or less functional to the society. Based on the conflict theory, the elimination of the elderly from competition in the society helps in freeing up the opportunities for the young adults and middle aged. Moreover, the elderly are not valued because they are considered to be no longer economically productive; as a result, costs associated with taking care of their specialized needs tend to lower the capitalist profits. In terms of symbolic interaction theory, the elderly are discriminated using the cultural symbols such as pop culture and language. A case in point is the emergence of new technologies such as social media that create a perception that the society is way ahead for the elderly.

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Part 2: Background

The proposed study seeks to explore the extent to which the society is aware of ageism. There is no doubt that ageism is prevalent in the current society that captivated by being young. However, with the Baby Boomers approaching their 60s, it is undoubtable that the issues affecting the elderly will be of priority. The increasing senior citizenship of the Baby Boomer generation raises questions as to whether ageism will decline or increase. The number of senior citizens in the US is anticipated to double to reach 70 million by 2030, up from the current 35.9 million. Amidst such a trend, it will be crucial to understand the degree to which society is aware of ageism in order to help in the development of effective anti-ageism measures. Understanding the awareness of ageism is important because ageism sometimes occurs without people knowing.

In executing the proposed study, diverse stakeholders will be involved, ranging from employers, the elderly, members of society, and government agencies. Essentially, the proposed research seeks to explore the level of awareness of ageism in nearly every domain that the elderly are likely to be subjected to age discrimination. Given the scope of the proposed research, the timeline for the study would be six months. This is adequate to identify and recruit participants, and collect the needed data to meet the objectives of the proposed study. From a staffing point of view, the study will require about 10 people, who will play various roles including contacting and recruiting participants, collecting data, and analyzing data. The proposed study will require the services of expert interviewers, and analysts.

The proposed research will make use of mixed methods research, which entails performing both qualitative and quantitative analysis. In this respect, the qualitative component of the proposed research will place emphasis on gathering information relating to the experiences of people with respect to ageism as well as exploring the various forms of ageism. Quantitative component of the research will be executed using semi-structured interviews with participants drawn from government agencies, employer organizations, the elderly and members of society. The quantitative aspect of the proposed research will focus on exploring the level of awareness of ageism in society, which will be the measure for this research. The aim to determine whether participants are able to know of ageism when they perpetuate or witness ageism being perpetuated by another individual. Quantitative data will be collected using questionnaires distributed to participants in the form a survey. The target sample size for the study will comprise of 100 elderly individuals, 50 employers, 200 members of society, and 50 representatives of government agencies.

The importance of the proposed research stems from the crucial insights provided regarding the issue of ageism, which will be important in outlining the recommendations for addressing the problem of ageism. By understanding the areas in which ageism is prevalent and the degree of awareness of ageism, effective measures can be devised to help reduce the perpetuation of age discrimination. The resulting data will be useful for employer organizations as well as policy makers.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that ageism is detrimental to the elderly because it hinders their independence and freedom, strips them of their dignity, and negatively impacts their quality of life. As a result, addressing the problem of age discrimination is important now than ever because of the increase in the elderly population. Various factors contribute to ageism including the societal emphasis on the youth, fear of death and focus on productivity. Ageism also occurs at the micro, meso, and macro levels; therefore, addressing the problem requires not only changing the individual ageist attitudes but also addressing the societal influences such as the fear of death. To this end, a study has been proposed to explore the level of awareness of ageism at individual, institutional, and societal levels in order to help in devising effective measures to curb the issue.